Political Animal


July 01, 2011 4:40 PM Taxes aren’t a third rail

By Steve Benen

The percentage of Americans who want to pay higher taxes is extremely small. It’s why candidates rarely seek public office promising to raise taxes, and it’s why Republicans see this as such a potent issue. If a GOP candidate can convince voters his or her Democratic rival will raise their taxes, the conventional wisdom goes, the odds of the Dem losing go up.

And in the context of the debt-reduction talks underway in D.C., congressional Republicans believe they not only can win the fight by refusing to compromise, they can also win the fight for public opinion by repeating, ad nauseum, that those rascally Democrats want to “raise taxes.”

The problem for the GOP is that this isn’t quite the electoral winner they assume it to be. Bruce Bartlett, a veteran of the Reagan and Bush administrations, noted yesterday:

Contrary to Republican dogma, polls show that the American people strongly support higher taxes to reduce the deficit and improve income inequality. Following are 19 different polls since the first of the year that say so.

Bruce goes on to reference (and link to) 19 polls, all from 2011, which show large chunks of the public support at least some tax increases. Indeed, the most interesting poll on Bruce’s list is a Washington Post/ABC News poll from last month that found 61% of the country believes higher taxes will be necessary to reduce the deficit.

Once policy details are added to the mix — if, for example, the public was told Democrats were only trying to eliminate unnecessary tax breaks for the oil industry and corporate-jet owners, for example — the so-called tax increases would probably be even more popular.

The assumption among Republicans is that the American mainstream believes exactly as GOP leaders do: all taxes are bad, all tax increases are bad, ergo anyone who supports more taxes is also bad.

Like most Republican assumptions, the evidence to support this is extremely thin.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • Live Free or Die on July 01, 2011 4:59 PM:

    Taxes are the third rail for the donors that Democrats rely on. Imagine how things would be different if there was only public financing of elections.

  • Linkmeister on July 01, 2011 5:06 PM:

    Read the comments on that post at Bartlett's site. The selfishness, it burns.

  • hornblower on July 01, 2011 5:08 PM:

    Raising taxes on wealthy folks like me is fine. Most Americans understand that corporations and rich people should pay more.
    However, there are still to many breaks in the code supported by both parties. The idea that democrats are on the side of the angels on this is a stretch. Schumer, for example, supports the capital gains rate for hedge fund managers. All of them let professional sports owners depreciate their player like livestock. The defense budget is riddled with pork for democratic and republican districts. And don't get me started on McConnell's Kentucky racehorses.
    Only the President who is elected nationally can change this dynamic. I hope he gets the chance.

  • JS on July 01, 2011 5:10 PM:

    I imagine Alex Karras playing the Senate Minority Leader: "McConno only pawn in game of life."

  • Davis X. Machina on July 01, 2011 5:16 PM:

    Salvation, though, is by faith, and not good works.

    The GOP are running on a platform consisting primarily of the Tantum Ergo:

    Et antiquum documentum
    Novo cedat ritui:
    Praestet fides supplementum
    Sensuum defectui.

    Let ancient teaching give way to a new cult, let faith provide what is missing with the failure of the senses...

    Not fresh-water economics, not salt-water economics -- holy water economics.

  • Mitch on July 01, 2011 5:27 PM:

    @Davis X. Machina

    Well said. The Republicans do not have economic theories; they have catechisms. They don't have knowledge; they have belief.

    The worst part (to me) is how they will deny history in mindless support of their belief - like denying that Reagan ever raised taxes.

    A simple look at tax rates vs. income inequality over the past century proves nearly all of their beliefs to be falshoods. But who needs truth when you have Faith.

    Faith is a dangerous thing; belief without (or even actively against) evidence has done nothing but damage humanity for all of recorded history.

  • Redshift on July 01, 2011 5:32 PM:

    What we seem to be seeing is the result of a generation of Republicans who believe their own BS. For decades, conservatives railed against "tax and spend liberals," so much so that it became a cliche. But they seemed to understand that liberals favored higher taxes in order to be able to spend on things they thought would be good, and that was where the disagreement lay.

    Now we have conservatives who were raised on talk radio and Fox News, where "liberal" means deviating from conservative orthodoxy in any way, so liberals are constantly presented as caricatures who must believe the exact opposite of what conservatives believe on every issue. So if conservatives have come to believe in cutting taxes as a core principle in itself, if liberals don't agree, they must be in favor of raising taxes on principle, not for any purpose (except maybe nefarious purposes of "redistribution of wealth.")

    Hence we get trolls like Mitch McConnell declaring that for the debt negotiations, it's imperative that Obama declare that he wants to raise taxes. "We demand you act like our caricature of you!" It doesn't seem like a particularly effective negotiating tactic, and conservatives are already repeating endlessly and falsely that Obama has raised taxes and wants to raise them more, so what does it get them?

    Is there any explanation other than that they've bought into their own BS, and want it validated?

  • neil b on July 01, 2011 5:35 PM:

    The Republicans are fighting several contradictions. One is talking concern over the debt/deficit (how about "debicit"?) while still wanting to maintain or lower taxes. ReAyn's plan is the logical result: after all that griping, doesn't even lower the deficit because of tax breaks to rich. It really can't be had both ways.

    The other is that Obama already acquiesced to keeping the BTCs and even yielded a bit of payroll tax relief, yet the economy wasn't tax-stimmed out of the doldrums. But how many of the LIVs and such care?

    WTF that lambda symbol in my decaptcha! Must be about Gay rights, as I see all this stuff on the NY vote ...

  • Schtick on July 01, 2011 8:45 PM:

    People and repubs spew the garbage of "tax and spend" dems while saying they believe in smaller government when if you look at the facts, the opposite is true. They also spew garbage like "cut and run" dems and at the same time dems not supporting or going to war.
    Well, with repubs having daddy buy thier way out, pimples on thier butts and getting five deferments because they had better things to do, who are these people repubs are sending off to war?
    Anyone remember someone saying "read my lips, no new taxes"?

    crapcha....lords ntiolia....in vain.

  • jrosen on July 01, 2011 9:02 PM:

    Nah JS. Blowhard Mitch (R-CSA) is the incarnation of Foghorn Leghorn.

  • Kris on July 01, 2011 11:06 PM:

    Honestly, as somebody (barely) in the top decile, I would be just fine with my taxes being raised to help pay for social services and public education. The idea that people as fortunate as I am are so selfish is a foreign concept to me.

  • jrosen on July 02, 2011 2:19 AM:

    With the Republicans in control of the US House of Representatives, voting for a living and living off of other peoples' money has become more and more difficult. Does anyone have any ideas how we can keep the gravy train rolling? If this keeps up, we lefties may all have to get jobs. Boy would that suck.

  • neil b on July 02, 2011 2:23 AM:

    Well, come to think of it I guess what the Republicans want is not some temporary tax holiday like a one-year suspension of the payroll tax, but a permanent tax reduction that was so successful during Reagan's term. I guess we already tried the temporary tax reduction during Bush's term (remember the $600?) and that didn't work out too well. Seems to me that some sort of permanent tax reduction might be the most logical next step. Lord knows the stimulus didn't do much good.