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Posts Tagged ‘Domenici-Rivlin’

I’m baffled by stupid Republicans (sorry to be redundant).

Some GOPers have agreed to put taxes on the table. Not surprisingly, Democrats are praising them for this preemptive surrender, patting these Republicans on the head for being good little lapdogs.

(The Democrats are also high-fiving each other since they openly admit that tricking Republicans into a tax hike has been their top political goal, but that’s an issue for another day.)

And what are Republicans getting in exchange for violating their no-tax promises? As you might suspect, they’re getting nothing. For all intents and purposes, the left is saying “that’s a good start” and waiting for GOPers to make further concessions.

Needless to say, this is very irritating. And I’m not the only person who is upset. Here is a column that I co-authored along with Grover Norquist, Mike Needham, Phil Kerpen, Al Cardenas, and Duane Parde. We explain why higher taxes are a bad idea.

Some are now suggesting that instead of addressing the real problems our nation faces — by reducing government spending — the supercommittee should recommend tax increases to meet its deficit reduction targets. Tax increases are what politicians always do when they are not willing to govern—that is, to cut and reform government spending. The problem, of course, is that tax hikes crowd out and displace spending reform. …Advocates of…raising taxes…have put forward several unserious arguments. First, they say, “let’s compromise.” Let’s be balanced, they insist, and promise to cut some spending and raise some taxes. Having pushed spending way up, they now want to pretend this spending is normal or, at least, inevitable. It isn’t. …Why should anyone be asked to pay more taxes just so Washington can continue to overspend? …What’s more, there are good reasons to be wary – we’ve been down this road before. In 1982, President Ronald Reagan was promised three dollars of spending cuts for every dollar of tax hikes. The tax hikes were real. But spending — in real dollar terms — went up, not down. In 1990, the same trick was played out — this time at the expense of President George H.W. Bush and the American people. A two-to-one promise brought higher taxes and higher spending. When tax hikes are on the table, the talk about spending cuts evaporates. Oddly enough, the tax hikes remain. The second argument is: “We won’t raise tax rates – we will just reduce deductions and credits.” Nonsense. Closing tax loopholes is all well and good. But doing so to raise revenues is just as much a tax hike as raising tax rates. The tax hike crowd is trying to confuse tax hikes with tax reform. In fact, closing tax loopholes to raise revenue is ultimately antithetical to tax reform — there would then be less revenue available to use to cut tax rates.

As a long-time advocate of the flat tax, I think the second point is very powerful. If you want tax reform, the last thing you should do is let the politicians take away loopholes without using the revenue to finance lower tax rates.

But the most important argument is the first one. Simply stated, higher taxes mean higher spending. Period. End of argument.

If taxes increase $300 billion, that means $300 billion more spending. If taxes increase $600 billion, that means $600 billion more spending.

And since America’s fiscal problem is too much spending, why should we let politicians have more money so they can make government even more bloated and wasteful?

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There’s been a lot of heated discussion about various preferences, deductions, credits, shelters, and other loopholes in the tax code. Some of this debate has revolved around whether it is legitimate to refer to these provisions as “tax expenditures” or “subsidies.”

My Cato colleague Michael Cannon vociferously argues that subsidies and expenditures only occur when the government takes money from person A and gives it to person B. On the other side of the debate are people like Josh Barro of the Manhattan Institute, who argues that tax preferences are akin to subsidies or expenditures since they can be just as damaging as government spending programs when looking at whether resources are efficiently allocated.

Since I’m a can’t-we-all-get-along, uniter-not-divider kind of person, allow me to suggest that this debate should be set aside. After all, we all agree that tax preferences can lead to inefficient outcomes. So let’s call them “tax distortions” and focus on the real issue, which is how best to eliminate them.

This is an important issue because both the Domenici-Rivlin Task Force and the Chairmen of the Simpson-Bowles Commission have unveiled plans that would reduce or eliminate many of these tax distortions and also lower marginal tax rates. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that their plans result in more revenue going to Washington. In other words, the tax increase resulting from fewer tax distortions is larger than the tax decrease resulting from lower tax rates. To put it bluntly, the plans would increase the overall tax burden.

Some argue that this is an acceptable price to pay. They point out, quite correctly, that lower tax rates will help the economy by improving incentives for productive behavior. And they also are right in arguing that fewer tax distortions will help the economy by improving efficiency. Seems like a win-win situation. What’s not to like?

The problem is on the spending side of the fiscal ledger. The Simpson-Bowles Commission and the Domenici-Rivlin Task Force were charged with figuring out how to reduce red ink. We already know from Congressional Budget Office data, however, that we can balance the budget fairly quickly by limiting the growth of government spending. As the chart illustrates, the deficit disappears by 2016-2017 with a hard freeze and goes away by 2019-2020 if spending increases by two percent each year (and this assumes all the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts are made permanent).

If tax revenue is increased, that simply means that the budget gets balanced at a higher level of spending. And since government spending, at current levels and composition, hinders economic growth by diverting labor and capital to less productive (or unproductive) uses, any proposal that enables higher levels of government spending will further undermine economic performance.

It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyhow) that this analysis is overly optimistic since it assumes that politicians actually will balance the budget. In all likelihood, as explained in today’s Wall Street Journal, any tax increase would probably be followed by even more spending. So if politicians raise the tax burden, we might still have a deficit of $685 billion in 2020 (CBO’s most-recent estimate assuming  all programs are left on auto-pilot), but the overall levels of both spending and taxes would be higher. This modified cartoon captures this real-world effect.

This is why revenue-neutral tax reform, like the flat tax, is the only pro-growth way of eliminating tax distortions.

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