Today’s front-page piece in the Washington Post about the Republican evolution to no-tax absolutism showcases how profoundly unserious, infantile, and destructive the Republican Party has become on fiscal policy.
At its most basic level, budgeting is simple. Policymakers must decide what the federal government should do – from defending the nation to promoting economic growth to caring for the most vulnerable – and then decide how best to pay for it. Thus, budgeting is inherently a two-sided process of spending and revenues.
Budgeting is also a question of choices. Policymakers must weigh claims for spending (e.g., more for defense, more for health care, more for education) and decide which claimants make the best cases for federal largesse.
But, the modern incarnation of the Grand Old Party refuses to consider fiscal policy in its entirety and has decided – before considering anything else – that it will not raise taxes for anything. Almost to a person among its elected officials in Washington, it has taken the no-tax pledge of leading anti-tax activist Grover Norquist – a pledge, Norquist says, that rules out even proposals to kill outrageous tax loopholes.
The issue isn’t whether to address our looming deficits and debt with higher taxes. That’s for policymakers to decide through a serious process. The problem is that one of America’s two political parties – one that dates back to the days of Lincoln – has decided it will not engage in such a serious process.
House Speaker John Boehner calls tax increases “unacceptable and a non-starter” while Republican Senators Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., face withering criticism from Norquist for engaging in “Gang of Six” negotiations with three Democrats to craft a deficit-reduction plan with spending cuts and tax increases. That intimidation forces every other Republican who would even consider tax hikes back in line.
For most Republicans, it’s only when they leave office that they find the courage to say publicly, as retired Senator Judd Gregg, R-N.H., told the Post, that we probably need tax hikes to accompany spending cuts.
That means that, for virtually every sitting Republican official and every Republican presidential aspirant, it’s no tax increases for anything – presumably even in case of emergency such as war, terrorist attack, or pandemic outbreak.
That presumably also means no tax increases even in case of an economic emergency, including one generated by our huge deficits and debt, or even in the face of the recent threat by Moody’s Investors Service to downgrade U.S. federal debt if the nation’s leaders do not quickly find a way to reduce the red ink.
Stubbornness of this kind is normally associated with little children. It’s not worthy of the nation’s elected leaders.
That’s why, on fiscal policy, the Grand Old Party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and Reagan has become the Infantile New Party of Boehner and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell in Congress and of a host of presidential aspirants.
Lawrence J. Haas is former Communications Director to Vice President Gore and, before that, to the White House Office of Management and Budget. He's now a public affairs consultant who writes widely about foreign and domestic affairs, including fiscal policy.
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