Jonathan Chait

Jon Kyl Commits Near-Honesty

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Jon Kyl (R-AZ) is getting a lot of attention for admitting, a little too bluntly, the Republican view that spending needs to be offset so as to be deficit neutral but tax cuts don't:

"[Y]ou should never raise taxes in order to cut taxes," Jon Kyl said on Fox News Sunday. "Surely Congress has the authority, and it would be right to -- if we decide we want to cut taxes to spur the economy, not to have to raise taxes in order to offset those costs. You do need to offset the cost of increased spending, and that's what Republicans object to. But you should never have to offset cost of a deliberate decision to reduce tax rates on Americans."

This was only a gaffe in the sense of using plain language to make a point that republicans usually prefer to obfuscate. What interested me more was that, while Kyl put the party line more bluntly than Republicans are supposed to, he still fell well short of actual honesty. Note that Kyl was arguing against a requirement that any new spending or tax cut be matched with a tax hike or spending cut. Kyl framed the issue as if it required a tax hike. Of course it does not. You could just as easily pay for a tax cut by cutting spending.

Republicans, though, don't want to have to cut spending in order to cut taxes, because that makes the trade-off explicit, and most spending programs are more popular than tax cuts. On the other hand, they also don't want to say that they don't want to have to cut spending. If Kyl came out and said that it's unfair to force Congress to come up with spending cuts to match every new tax cut they propose, he'd have looked even more ridiculous than he did. So he pretended that the alternative was to require tax hikes, and only tax hikes, to offset tax cuts.

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