Partisanship And GOP Anti-Tax Mania

by Jonathan Chait | August 12, 2011

Last night at the Republican debate when every candidate declared they would oppose a deficit reduction deal consisting of over 90% spending cuts captured the party's anti-tax monomania. (It also left plenty of room for future dorm-room hypothetical scenarios: What about a 99-1 ratio? What if space aliens threatened to destroy Earth unless we raised taxes on Bill Gates by a dollar and it had to be done through a legislated tax hike rather than a voluntary donation?)

Meanwhile, there are murmuring of dissent within the conservative movement. President Obama's spurned offer to Republicans was dismayingly generous -- a budget deal consisting of 80% spending cuts, with all new revenue coming in the context of a reformed tax code with far lower rates. Doesn't anybody on the right think the GOP should have taken that deal -- if nothing else, to protect against the risk of the Bush tax cuts expiring, and far higher taxes ensuing?

It turns out that some of them do think that. They simply have to couch their argument in terms that play to the GOP's partisan animus. In today's Wall Street Journal, former Bush administration economist Glenn Hubbard advocates that kind of revenue-enhancing tax reform bargain. But he presents it as a policy option that Obama fervently opposes:

'What is tax reform?"
That's the Jeopardy-like question matching the answer: "The best step the government could take now to promote growth and employment." The Obama administration has been responding with "What are higher marginal tax rates and more stimulus?" ...
President Obama's repeated calls to raise marginal tax rates on upper-income Americans call to mind the image of a dog chasing a car, then stopping to wonder what to do with it when he catches it.

And last week Charles Krauthammer likewise advocated a tax code with a broader base, lower rates and targeted revenue levels above the status quo, but carefully avoiding any reference to the fact that Obama offered precisely this bargain and House Republicans nixed it.

It would seem to me that pointing out that Obama has offered this deal would be an important selling point. You could say, not only is this advance conservative policy goals, Obama has already offered to sign it! But instead they go out of their way not to mention that.

What's the psychology here? One possibility is that they're trying to avoid helping Obama by admitting that his tax position is more reasonable than the GOP's. Another -- not mutually exclusive -- is that they think the only way to sell this idea to conservatives is to present it as a rebuke to Obama. Neither of these possibilities reflect well on the level of intellectual discourse within the conservative movement.

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/jonathan-chait/93567/partisanship-and-gop-anti-tax-mania