Republican senators may have made news on the Sunday shows by hinting that additional revenues might be okay with them, although it was difficult to figure out exactly what John McCain (R-Ariz.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) were proposing. Still, as Steve Benen points out, there seem to be quite a few Republicans who are open to new revenues as part of a deficit-reduction package.
It’s all pretty murky. So what’s going on here?
There may be a couple of things. One is that there may be a real debate within the GOP over which is to be the priority: low taxes or deficit reduction. In reality, those things are simply in opposition. It is true that in the abstract one could balance the budget at any level of taxes, but in reality balancing the budget at the revenue levels mainstream Republicans prefer is impossible because the Democratic majority in the Senate and President Barack Obama would never agree to it — and because the spending cuts that would be needed would so unpopular that it’s unlikely Republicans could even find a majority for them in the House. So the first question is whether Republicans really do have to choose between taxes and deficits, and many of them would prefer to straddle.
The second thing going on is about rhetoric, not substance: Republicans are trying to put all the blame for any tax increases squarely on the president and the Democrats. The truth, again, is that deficit reduction (at least on the large scale that both Obama and the Republicans claim to want) simply implies tax increases. But Republicans want to duck the responsibility for the actual, practical consequence of the deficit reduction they’re demanding. Of course, the same is true for any Democrats who support large deficit reduction but don’t want to take responsibility for either the spending cuts or tax increases it implies.
And all this is complicated by Republican dogma that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that it’s tax cuts, rather than tax increases, which actually produce higher revenues. Not to mention that Republican dogma also insists, also against all evidence to the contrary, that spending cuts somehow magically produce jobs, while tax increases destroy them (the evidence, as former Obama administration economist Christina Romer explained yesterday, is that all deficit cutting is likely to cost jobs in the current economic context — but that spending cuts are even more damaging that tax increases).
Put it all together and it makes for something of a muddle: Some Republicans just prefer lower taxes to deficit reduction; Others place a priority on deficit reduction, but want to blame Obama for any taxes; And all of them appear to be committed to, as the old label had it, voodoo economics — which makes it hard for them to talk much sense about any of this.