The way Republican Senators involved in the Gang of Six negotiations over a deficit reduction plan have publicly spoken about taxes continues to reveal just how distorted the conversation over the deficit has become. Last week, Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma reiterated that “There’s no plan to have a significant tax hike on anyone”:
“There’s no plan to have a significant tax hike on anyone,” Coburn said on conservative talker Laura Ingraham’s radio show. “I don’t think there’s any of the three of us who will embrace tax hikes.”
Now Coburn has said he would favor changes in the tax code that would raise revenues through various means without increasing rates. Based on that alone, he’s taking heat from anti-tax activists on the right who want to prevent even that from happening.
But despite the fact that conservatives have sought to portray the debate as one in which Democrats have proposed massive tax hikes while Republicans favor spending cuts, no one on the left is suggesting balancing the budget exclusively through raising taxes.
Last week, the media began to take more notice of the Progressive Caucus’ budget, which balances the budget by 2021 by raising taxes and cutting defense. As The Economist noted, few commentators called the progressive budget “brave,” despite the fact that raising taxes is so politically toxic, concluding that “the disparate treatment here is a structural bias rooted in class.
The president’s proposal, which itself consists of two-thirds spending cuts and one-third tax increases is, if anything, more conservative than the original suggestions made by Obama’s fiscal commission. Yet, it remains as of now, the leftmost pole of the budget debate.
This has been one of the more frustrating features of the political fights of the past few years. Republicans adopt the most extreme position imaginable — no tax hikes despite the fact that taxes “are at historic lows compared with ones from 1955.” The White House almost inevitably tries to locate itself between two perceived poles of right and left, in an effort to seem centrist and reasonable. But the liberal pole vanishes from the discussion, whether because of Beltway culture, or structural class bias, or the unwillingness of Congressional Democrats to challenge the president.
We shouldn’t lose sight of what this debate is really about. Republicans want to reduce the deficit solely through drastic spending cuts, while the few who are open to changing the tax code still steadfastly oppose to raising rates. The White House has proposed raising taxes on the wealthy and cutting spending. Even House liberals, who raise taxes on everyone, still offset the deficit with cuts in spending. There really is only one faction in the budget debate that has adopted an absolutist position, and that’s the Republicans who insist that the deficit be cut in a manner that drastically reduces services to the poor and elderly without asking the rich to sacrifice a dime.