Speaker Boehner: Only Middle-Class Tax Cuts Have To Be Paid For

December 01, 2011 3:07 pm ET — Walid Zafar

Speaker John Boehner

You have to appreciate the gall with which members of the Republican Party display their selective embrace of fiscal responsibility. In this case, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) insists that any extension of the payroll tax cut has to be paid for by cutting elsewhere in the federal government's budget. From The Hill:

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Wednesday that Republicans support extending the payroll-tax cut but that "there's no debate" about whether the measure should be paid for.

"We're going to continue to seek common ground on this issue," Boehner told reporters after a House GOP conference meeting. "There's no debate, though, on whether these extensions ought to be paid for. The president's called for them to be paid for, Democrats here have called for them to be paid for and so if in fact we can find common ground on these extensions, I think you can take to the bank that they will be paid for."

According to the Washington Post, Republicans have proposed to pay for the extension of the tax cut by "extend[ing] the current pay freeze for federal workers for an additional three years, trim[ing] the federal workforce by 10 percent and forc[ing] high earners to pay more for programs such as Medicare."

But Boehner was singing a different tune when it came to paying for the costly Bush tax cuts, the benefits of which have largely gone to folks like Boehner's country club buddies. Last year, when NBC's David Gregory asked him if his proposal to extend the costly Bush tax cuts would be paid for, Boehner dismissed the question as a product of "this Washington game and their funny accounting over there."

GREGORY: Are tax cuts paid for or not?

BOEHNER: Listen, what you're trying to do is get into this Washington game and their funny accounting over there. You cannot get the economy going again by raising taxes on those people who we expect to create jobs in America and to get the economy going again. If we want to solve the budget problem, we've got to have a healthy economy and we have to get our arms around the runaway spending that's going on in Washington, D.C.

GREGORY: I just want to clarify this. I mean, if you—I'm relying on what chairman Greenspan said. Maybe—if you're accusing him of funny Washington games. He says that tax cuts that aren't paid for are not—they are not cutting the deficit, that they are not actually paid for, it's borrowed money. And so do you believe tax cuts pay for themselves or not?

BOEHNER: I do believe that we've got to get more money in the hands of small businesses and American families to get our economy going again, and the only way to get that economy going again is to do that and to get our arms around the spending.

Needless to say, the Bush tax cuts, which are among the largest drivers of both the annual deficit and the national debt, are not paid for. Not only did Boehner fight for their extension but he and the rest of his caucus want to make those cuts permanent at a cost of $2.02 trillion over the next decade. Nor is there any indication that the Bush tax cuts have created new jobs or encouraged economic growth. As we've noted in the past, lower marginal tax rates do not correspond with high economic growth.

On the other hand, Boehner wants a one-year extension of the payroll tax cut — which costs much, much less than the failed Bush tax cuts, puts money in the pockets of the working middle class, and cuts the taxes of every small business that has employees — to be paid for by gutting the government.

That's the sort of "funny accounting" that Boehner knows quite well.