It seems hard to believe but, just a decade ago, the deficit didn’t exist and there were surpluses as far as the eye could see. The United States was on track to eliminate the national debt altogether by 2010, making the country debt free for the first time in nearly two centuries.
Then 2001 happened. In fact, a year ago this week, George W. Bush’s tax policy became law, and to honor the occasion, Slate’s Annie Lowrey tried to “find something redeeming” to say about them. Alas, she came up empty, concluding that they’ve “been a failure in every conceivable way.”
Ten years ago this week, the policy’s conservative champions made bold predictions about what the tax cuts would do — massive job growth, vast new wealth, higher incomes, smaller government, and balanced budgets. None of these predictions proved to be even remotely true.
The fine folks at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities put together several worthwhile charts this week to mark the 10th anniversary of this tragic mistake, but this one’s my favorite.
But the spectacular failure of the policy is really only part of the story. Indeed, to a certain extent, looking back at recent history only helps provide a salient foundation for the more important problem: the fact that we haven’t learned anything from the mistake.
Well, perhaps “we” is the wrong word. Some of us have learned quite a bit. But in the Republican Party, we have lawmakers who continue to insist that their votes in support of this monstrosity were fully justified. They won’t apologize, they have no regrets, and they’d rather cause a deliberate recession than any allow a single penny of tax increases to be imposed on anyone.
And on the presidential campaign trail, it’s arguably even worse. Tim Pawlenty is pushing a tax-cut plan that’s triple the size of Bush’s tax-cut package, convinced that it will — you guessed it — generate massive job growth, vast new wealth, higher incomes, smaller government, and balanced budgets.
Worse, in the process, Pawlenty is setting a bar and challenging his presidential rivals to follow him. He wants $11.6 trillion in tax cuts — will other candidates match that? Surpass it? The race is on to see which Republican presidential candidate can be the most ridiculously irresponsible, and the competition will no doubt be fierce.
We are, in other words, talking about a party that tried an ambitious and radical experiment, saw it fail, and decided what’s needed now is significantly more failure.
I mind that Republicans got this wrong and we’ll be dealing with the consequences for many years to come, but I really mind that Republicans think they were right. As Ezra noted the other day, the party not only “hasn’t learned anything from the failure of the Bush tax cuts,” it’s actually managed to “unlearn some things, too.”
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