Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 11, 2011

THE SENSIBLE, POPULAR DEBT-REDUCTION IDEA.... David Stockman, Reagan's first budget director, isn't especially impressed with the House Republican budget plan. The problem? The Paul Ryan vision only deals with one side of the ledger.

"It doesn't address in any serious or courageous way the issue of the near and medium-term deficit," Stockman told Brian Beutler. "I think the biggest problem is revenues. It is simply unrealistic to say that raising revenue isn't part of the solution. It's a measure of how far off the deep end Republicans have gone with this religious catechism about taxes."

Exactly. We're really just talking about arithmetic -- to reduce a budget shortfall, the government needs more money coming in, less money going out, or some combination of the two. Reagan, during and after Stockman's tenure, wasn't exactly a model of fiscal responsibility, but he raised taxes seven of the eight years he was in office, precisely to avoid spiraling deficits.

But that was before the "religious catechism about taxes."

The punditocracy has already decided Paul Ryan is "courageous and serious," but if he were really courageous and serious, he'd be willing to incorporate revenue enhancers (you know, tax increases) into the package. Instead, he slashes taxes on the wealthy and powerful while slashing benefits for the elderly, disabled, and working poor -- Ryan is apparently trying to become a villain in a modern-day Dickens novel -- making it harder, not easier, to achieve his alleged goal.

Let's make this plain: if the point is to tackle the debt issue, tax increases have to be, in Sen. Saxby Chambliss' (R-Ga.) words, "part of the mix." To argue otherwise is fundamentally cowardly and unserious.

Annie Lowrey had a good piece on this the other day, explaining why the Ryan plan reinforces the argument about tax increases.

Of course, balancing the budget is never easy. But, by mandating harsh program cuts without providing realistic new sources of tax revenue, the Ryan plan makes it unnecessarily hard. What the Ryan plan really shows -- inadvertently, I am sure -- is that balancing the budget will require raising taxes. [...]

Leaving aside morality, just think about math. Ryan calls the budget deficit an "existential threat" to the United States. He has scary charts. He talks a lot about a debt crisis, with the United States' investors losing confidence in the country and refusing to lend to it. But he does not actually balance the budget or tackle the debt until after 2030, at which point America has racked up about $14 trillion in new red ink. The problem gets worse before it gets better, in part because America's richest get a tax break beyond what the expiring Bush tax cuts give them.

The fiscally responsible choice is to raise taxes while also reforming entitlements, as any of the half-dozen more feasible and less cruel plans floating around do. (Just letting the Bush tax cuts expire -- which would require no congressional action at all -- would be a good start.) They might not be as bold. But they don't require magical thinking to make it all add up.

The funny part of this, at least to me, is that the right's efforts to make tax increases some sort of new third rail in American politics hasn't worked at all. The most recent Washington Post-ABC News poll asked Americans the best way to reduce the deficit. The Republican mantra -- the focus must be on spending cuts, and nothing else -- received 31% backing. A combination of cuts and tax increases was preferred by a 64% majority.

Hell, 47% of Republicans believe a combination of spending cuts and tax increases is the way to go.

Last week, even Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), one of the chamber's most conservative members, endorsed the notion of spreading the pain around: "My taxes are going to go up. Sorry, they're going to go up."

If deficit reduction is the new establishment priority, there's no way to have the conversation and take taxes off the table. If the GOP didn't want to hear this, Republicans shouldn't have started the conversation.

Steve Benen 2:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

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Now, if we could only get the David Brooks' in the pun-twit-ocracy, and other members of the MSM to acknowledge that, yes, tax INCREASES are part of a SERIOUS discussion, and not wallet-envy from the socialist DFH's, then maybe we could have a conversation. The corporations and uber-wealthy in this country have been living virtually rent free in mansions, while charging us up the ass to afford a hovel.

And, right now, in the MSM and pun-twits eyes, you're only a "Serious" person if you want to make children, students, the poor, the sick, the un/under-employed, the disabled, and the elderly suffer to cut down on deficits from deregulation, wars and bad health care decisions - over 10 years!

And anyone who thinks that fiscal sanity should come on the back of those people above, is not a serious person.
He/she is a seriously SICK PERSON!

Tax the rich.
Tax the corporations.
Close loopholes.
See what happens, and then come back and talk to us about the deficit.

BTW - a reminder. 10 years ago, we were hearing from Alan Greenspan about how bad a BUDGET SURPLUS was.
And all of the same serious people, in our oh-so serious Congress, and our oh-so serious MSM, took him seriously.

This country's a fucking joke.
Mostly because too many people are blithering idiots.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on April 11, 2011 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

Oh yeah, and stop the 2 occupations, and the air war over Libya.
Those might help get the ol' deficit down, too.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on April 11, 2011 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

Exactly. Some people scoff at the idea that many Republicans want to return to 19th societal values, summed up as those of a disparate rural population in semi-serfdom to the idle rich. Yet, Paul Ryan's proposed budget attempts to destroy Johnson's Great Society and Roosevelt's New Deal, continuing the trend towards an inequality of income that would embarrass Queen Victoria. He and others are trying to privatize Medicare & Medicaid, squish abortion rights, and destroy unions. 

The Supreme Court gave corporations pre-20th century influence in politics. Many Republicans would rewrite the 14th amendment to keep kids of undocumented workers from citizenship. Others would stop unemployment insurance and like AZ Governor Jan Brewer jail undocumented workers in privately run prisons.

I admire many things about the 19th century -- abolition of slavery, intellectual curiosity, the progressive movement, neo-classical architecture, workers rights... Yet, I would never want to return even in part to the morality, health care, social structure, and income inequality of that complex culture.  

Those Republicans  wanting to shrink the federal government to Coolidge-era size, I think, killing that which made our society great - a movement up and up in terms of income euqality, human rights, a strong federal system, free education for all, and a spirit of exploration... All  incompatible with the mid-Victorian legal, moral & state rights values, the worst of the 19th century, Republicans seem to love and which the rest of us discarded 150+ years ago.

Posted by: KurtRex1453 on April 11, 2011 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

but as long as "Mr. Compromise" keeps reaching out to the GOP there is no reason for them to change their tune....just keep standing tall and eventually the Prez will move in their direction!

Posted by: ghostryder on April 11, 2011 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

I have truly been dumbfounded by the universal media support for Republican ideas, for making 'the deficit' THE only issue, etc. Their weirdly prioritized 'talking points' seem to me to denote that the very heart and soul of the THINKING by big business, big capital, and big corporations is not very deep, intelligent or even vaguely analytical.

The media is just the mouth organ of big business. And big business has ZERO IDEAS.


Seriously, what is their VISION? It consists of a single fantasy: That MONEY will do all the work. You can sit back and relax, if you have a big enough pile of money, it will 'grow' all by itself, provide you with income, and you don't have to lift a lazy little finger.

What a dream?!!!!

Posted by: jjm on April 11, 2011 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, the tax rates should be raised - at least on the rich and maybe on the upper middle class too. But what about getting rid of charitable deductions and the home mortage interest deduction - at least for people over a certain income level, or pro-rate the deductions on a sliding scale. I would love to see a country where rich people could not get a tax benefit for buying a vacation home, or giving to a right-wing non-profit "foundation", or for giving to a conservative mega-church.

Posted by: MuddyLee on April 11, 2011 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

All that matters is that the rich get richer. Everything said by Republicans, everything parrotted by the media -- it is all about the rich getting richer. EOS.

Posted by: R on April 11, 2011 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

I, for one, am willing to cut every federal benefit for tea partiers. Remember Greenspan telling us how bad a surplus was in 2000? Restore sane taxation and ignore republicans--a sure-fire solution to our national ills.
This is the gullible age of American hsitory.

Posted by: Sparko on April 11, 2011 at 3:27 PM | PERMALINK

They figure that if they keep talking about money that no one will remember all their big talk about all the jobs they were going to create.

Posted by: roughdraft on April 11, 2011 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK

The trickle down hypothesis (it's not a theory, theories require evidence) of economics is bullshit. But a lot of people buy into it.

It shouldn't be difficult to show people how the richest of the rich just keep getting richer while the rest of slide towards poverty; it's been moving in this direction for decades. It should not be hard to explain that so many major corporations do not pay any taxes at all, that the top 400 households in the country pay only about 16%. . . and yet that hasn't shown any signs of helping the economy (no trickle down here folks). Or to wonder publically why The War on Terror is the first war in which taxes were not raised to help fund it.

It shouldn't be impossible to ask the question, "If raising taxes makes we Liberals socialist, then what do you call Reagan?"

But we don't. Or rather we (the little people) do ask these questions all of the time.

Back when the Bush Tax Cuts were extended Obama said, "[In 2012] It will become apparent that we can't afford these tax cuts any longer."

Truth is that we can't afford them now and we couldn't afford them in December. Truth be told we haven't been able to afford them since we first went into Afghanistan.

I understand that the Bush Tax Cuts were extended as part of a deal to keep unemployment coming to those in need. But look at the cuts we are having to make now? The Right will keep chipping away at everything; that much is obvious. Each time we negotiate I feel that we lose more and more to them. How long will it be before we negotiate away Medicare?

It doesn't matter what the polls say. If it did then we would ALREADY be winning these battles. The only thing that matters is the action of those we elect.

Next year, when the Bush Tax Cuts expire again do you think the Republicans will simply let them go?

Or will they hold hostage unemployment, education and maybe even Medicare to keep them?

If I were a betting man, I'd put my money on number two.

Not to mention the whole Election Year thing. Who is going to want to piss off the big corporate doners by suggesting that we let the cuts expire? Anyone? Anyone on either side?

I've got no confidence in that either.

Posted by: Mitch on April 11, 2011 at 3:52 PM | PERMALINK

While I have to admit that I havent' found time to read Ryan's Hope, from the critiques I've read it seems to me that he is for raising taxes...on the middle class and poor people. They vote Democratic anyway. So by that measure, his proposal could be considered serious. But not much money to be made from the middle class or the poor. Better luck squeezing blood out of a stone.

A new rule, no policy proposal gets called "serious" unless the person proposing it includes policies that are clearly anathema to their natural constituencies. Democratic budget proposals don't get called "serious" unless they clearly and unambiguously tackle entitlements. Republican budget proposals don't get called "serious" unless they include plans for enhanced revenues from corporations and top earners.

That should be fair.

Posted by: majun on April 11, 2011 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

I worked for Obama, and was completely behind him until the tax cut capitulation.

I find it an interesting position for liberals to say they would rather have unemployment compensation cut for tens of millions, have all gay service members continue to serve as second-class citizens, and have an important nuclear reduction treaty go unsigned, than let some rich people stay a little bit richer for a while.

Not sure how you justify that...

Posted by: chi res on April 11, 2011 at 4:17 PM | PERMALINK

In Nevada, our Republican governor has sworn not to raise taxes. Meanwhile, large business interests, such as mining and the casinos, are holding ongoing private meetings with lawmakers to convince them to implement a services tax (like a sales tax) because they know taxes have to go up and they want to make sure they go up on somebody else.

Posted by: You Don't Say on April 11, 2011 at 4:31 PM | PERMALINK

Alvin Lee - "Tax the rich, feed the poor, til there are no rich, no more!" Oh, and I'd like to change the world! -Kevo

p.s. "Everywhere freaks and hairies, dykes and fairies, tell me where is sanity!"

Posted by: kevo on April 11, 2011 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

It should be obvious why Ryan's plan cuts taxes for the rich, raises them for everyone else and why so many Republican/Teabaggers go along with it: the cuts are in programs for POOR people. Ryan and his ilk believe they will never be poor or have to struggle to make ends meet. Therefore ALL the funds required for such programs HAVE to come from those who either use them, or might use them.
Ergo, the Republican/Teabaggers, who will NEVER EVER EVER, even unto the tenth generation, need any of these programs shouldn't have to pay for them. That's the American Way, isn't it?
The explanation for the subsidies for corporations, big oil, big agribusinesses, however, is just plain, old-fashioned greed...

Posted by: Doug on April 11, 2011 at 5:20 PM | PERMALINK

The punditocracy has already decided Paul Ryan is "courageous and serious,"[...] -- Steve Benen

Just as there's a lack of balance in Privateer Privatizer Ryan's plan, so there is a lack of balance in Congress; with few exceptions, Dems don't seem to have the matching "courage" to fight against his push for further disenfranchising those at the bottom rungs of the social ladder.

Posted by: exlibra on April 11, 2011 at 5:21 PM | PERMALINK

The problem with getting rid of 501c3 deductions is that you also eviscerate a lot of organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center, ACLU, Physicians without Borders, and charitable orgs which are trying their best to help the poor and downtrodden.

Also, I believe tax law is that you get a deduction on the property taxes and mortgage interest on your FIRST home. Any subsequent homes, nope.

Let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater.


What "entitlements" are you proposing to cut? The only two worth a hill of beans are Medicare and Social Security. All the rest are such a drop in the bucket that you could completely axe them and make barely a dent in the debt or the deficit. People proposing to axe those without cutting defense and the two big "entitlements" (into which we've all paid and are paying) are the UNSERIOUS ones.

Posted by: Wolfdaughter on April 11, 2011 at 6:20 PM | PERMALINK

Paul Ryan is serious . . . Seriously deluded.

New motto for the repubs . . . Repeal the 20th Century.

If the top 20 percent of earners in the US earn 80 percent of all income then shouldn't they also own 80 percent of the debt? Well . . . Pay up!

Posted by: DK on April 11, 2011 at 8:21 PM | PERMALINK
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