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Archive for June 13th, 2012

Even though America’s fiscal problem is entirely the result of too much government spending, I wrote earlier this year that there were all sorts of scenarios where I would agree to a tax increase.

But I then pointed out that all of those scenarios were total fantasies and that it would be more realistic to envision me playing center field for the New York Yankees.

The fundamental problem is that politicians never follow through on promises to reduce spending – even if you use the dishonest Washington definition that a spending cut occurs whenever the budget doesn’t rise as fast as previously planned.

And to make matters worse, they always seem to want class-warfare tax hikes that do heavy economic damage rather than the loophole closers that at least get rid of some of the inefficient corruption in the tax code.

That’s why I like the anti-tax pledge of Americans for Tax Reform. You don’t solve America’s fiscal problems by saying no to all tax increases, but at least you don’t move in the wrong direction at a faster rate.

Notwithstanding the principled and pragmatic arguments against putting tax increases on the table, some Republicans – in a triumph of hope over experience – are preemptively acquiescing to tax hikes.

Here’s what Jeb Bush said.

Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, said Friday that he could back a broad deficit plan that increased taxes, a stance that puts him at odds with other prominent Republicans. Bush told a House panel he could get behind a plan that combined 10 dollars in spending cuts for every dollar of new revenue… “The problem is the 10 never materializes,” [Congressman Paul] Ryan said after Bush said he could support a revenue-increasing deficit deal. Norquist also has criticized deficit deals crafted in 1982 and 1990 – the latter agreed to by then-President George H.W. Bush, Jeb’s father – for failing to deliver on the spending side.

Kudos to Paul Ryan for making the obvious point about make-believe spending cuts. And Grover is correct about the failure of previous budget deals.

Indeed, I cited a New York Times column that inadvertently revealed that the only budget deal that worked was the 1997 pact that cut taxes rather than raised them.

Jeb Bush isn’t the only apostate. Here’s what Senator Graham had to say.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Tuesday he believed Republicans should consider eliminating loopholes in the tax code even if they aren’t replaced by additional tax cuts, a move that would break with an anti-tax pledge many GOP lawmakers have signed with activist Grover Norquist. “When you eliminate a deduction, it’s OK with me to use some of that money to get us out of debt. That’s where I disagree with the pledge,” Graham told ABC News. …”I’m willing to move my party, or try to, on the tax issue. I need someone on the Democratic side being willing to move their party on structural changes to entitlements.” Graham said, for instance, he would support a plan that included $4 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax increases. During a Republican debate last August, all eight Republican candidates in attendance said they would reject a proposal to trade $10 in spending cuts for even $1 in tax increases.

In some sense, Senator Graham’s comments are reasonable. With real spending cuts and less-damaging forms of tax hikes, an acceptable deal is possible. But only in Fantasia, not in Washington.

In the real world, all that Senator Graham has done is to move the debate slightly to the left.

I’ve noted that tax increases are political poison for the Republican Party, but I don’t lose sleep worrying about the GOP.

But I do have nightmares about government getting even bigger, and that’s why I don’t want tax increases on the table. I don’t even want them in the room. Or the house. Or the neighborhood.

That’s why Jeb Bush and Lindsey Graham are the newest winners of the Charlie Brown Award. They’ve put blood in the water. I wonder if they’ll act surprised when hungry sharks show up looking for a meal?

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It seems that any argument about the economy eventually boils down to the core issue of whether government spending acts as a stimulus or whether it is – in the words of Thomas Sowell – a sedative that undermines prosperity.

So when Robert Reich and I went on Erin Burnett’s CNN show to discuss Obama’s stumbling economic performance, much of our discussion focused on whether to further expand the burden of the public sector.

Here are a couple of observations about the interview.

  1. Reich admitted that spending is a problem and in the “long term” needs to be reduced. I suspect “long term” never arrives in Reich’s world, but this is nonetheless a startling concession on his part.
  2. Reich claimed World War II was an example of successful Keynesian stimulus, but if he wants to make that argument, then he needs to explain why we didn’t fall back into the Great Depression after the war – which is what all the Keynesians warned would happen.
  3. For reasons outlined in my beat-down of Krugman, I’ve become a cheerleader for Estonia and used the interview to promote that country’s fiscal restraint.

If you want to understand more about Keynesian economics and why it doesn’t work, this video will be more instructive than my food fight with Reich.

P.S. Obama is monotonously repetitive in his claim that the economy is facing headwinds. As this Ramirez cartoon illustrates, he’s right, but not in the way he thinks.

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