Rodricks: On taxes and deficits, Andy Harris wants it both ways

Wait, what? Rep. Andy Harris, a big-time supporter of the Trump/Republican tax cuts that are expected to add hundreds of billions of dollars to the national debt, is now railing against those who refused to support a balanced-budget amendment, because not doing so is — fiscally irresponsible?

Take a look at this press release from the congressman's office:


"On April 12, the U.S. House of Representatives rejected H.J.Res. 2, the Balanced Budget Amendment. The amendment would have amended the U.S. Constitution to require that Congress not spend more than it receives in revenue, unless Congress authorizes the excess by a three-fifths majority in each chamber. Congressman Andy Harris, M.D. (MD-01) released the following statement after the vote:

"'The Balanced Budget Amendment would have been a common-sense addition to our Constitution. Considering the fact that the government has saddled future generations with a $20 trillion national debt, balancing our budget is a critical principle to get our nation's finances in order. Now we should consider President Trump's idea to cut some of the overspending in the latest Omnibus bill through rescissions.'"

Let us review.

In December, Harris, the only Republican member of Congress from Maryland, was among 227 peers in the House who voted for the tax overhaul. Harris was particularly bullish on it, arguing its merits during morning drive time on NPR, and this as preliminary estimates had the cuts adding more than $1 trillion to budget deficits while benefiting corporations and wealthy Americans the most.

The measure will give permanent tax cuts to companies and temporary tax cuts to individuals and families. It sounds great, particularly if you are among the lucky workers receiving bonuses in your paychecks as a result of the corporate cuts.

But as anyone who manages a household knows, cutting revenue without commensurate cuts to spending leads to debt.

So the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which advises representatives and senators on fiscal matters, looked at the December tax cuts as well as the $1.3 trillion spending bill that Congress passed in March, with its fat increase in defense spending. Taken together, those two measures constitute a one-two punch of the bad fiscal policy Republicans used to condemn and reject.

So the CBO predicts that we will see a ballooning of the budget deficit to the tune of more than $1 trillion in 2020. And that's with what the budget office foresees as a decent amount of growth to the economy in the next couple of years. The national debt is already around $21 trillion. The CBO says it will grow to more than $33 trillion in the next decade.

Andy Harris voted for the tax cuts, but he did not vote for the spending bill. He called it "fiscally irresponsible." I looked at his specific objections and saw the following:

  • Not enough time to read the bill. “The Omnibus bill was 2,232 pages long, and we had fewer than 14 hours to read it before voting on it,” he said.
  • Continued federal funding to “unlawful sanctuary cities,” a reference to places, such as Baltimore, that have liberal policies on immigration, including official refusal to have local police cooperate with federal agents in the Trump roundup of undocumented immigrants.
  • Did not provide Trump with the $25 billion he wanted for his wall at the U.S. border with Mexico. It set aside only $1.6 billion for Trump’s most-repeated campaign promise, a sum that Harris, a Trump man all the way, found inadequate.
  • Did not “address the need for temporary workers in industries critical to the economy of Maryland’s First District,” a reference to the need for additional visas for immigrants to work in the Eastern Shore’s seafood industry. (It’s downright heartwarming to hear a backer of anti-immigrant Trump express concern about the number of immigrants we welcome into this country.)
  • The spending bill would “balloon our deficit.”

Of course, the tax cuts Harris supported in December will contribute mightily to inflating that balloon.

This week, the congressman supported the resolution for a balanced-budget amendment, claiming that it was needed to "get our nation's finances in order."

But, he's not fooling anyone. The vote on that resolution was just a political stunt to make Republicans look like they were being grownups after giving Trump his tax cuts and increased defense spending. No one expected the resolution to pass, and it didn't. Not even close. Even some Republicans derided it as an attempt to fool constituents into believing their representatives have been as prudent as accountants since the GOP gained control of the White House and the Congress.

When I asked if Harris' positions on the tax cuts and the balanced budget amendment were contradictory, his spokesman, Jacque Clark responded with this statement: "Congressman Harris' consistent record of voting against wasteful government spending that leads to increased deficits is unmatched in the Maryland delegation. His lone vote in the delegation for the Balanced Budget Amendment is just the latest example."

Meanwhile, for every news story about a company handing out bonuses as a result of the tax cuts, there is almost always another about who's going to benefit most from the overhaul: Corporations and shareholders, the wealthiest Americans and, according to the CBO analysis, foreign investors in U.S. stock markets.