Jon Chait is, of course, right that House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget cuts taxes on the rich. It cuts them when compared with current law, under which the Bush tax cuts expire in 2012. It cuts them against Obama’s budget, under which the Bush tax cuts for income over $250,000 expire in 2012. And it cuts them even if you ignore the Bush tax cuts, as it repeals a variety of progressive taxes included in the Affordable Care Act. That it also closes loopholes and lowers marginal rates has no bearing on the fact that the rich will be paying less than they would under either current law or the president’s proposals.
But I also understand why so many conservatives are going to such great lengths to deny that Ryan’s budget cuts taxes on the rich. Raising taxes on the rich is popular. Saying you’re not going to raise taxes on the rich but you’re going to make up that money by sharply cutting Medicaid and Medicare is unpopular. Look what happened to Ryan himself when he tried to tell some of his constituents that the rich were already taxed enough. Skip ahead to 1:25 in the video if all you’re interested in are the boos:
This is not a winning message. And this isn’t just about politics or polls. A modest tax increase on the wealthy is much less consequential than the massive structural reforms the GOP wants to make to Medicare and Medicaid. It’s less consequential fiscally, less consequential for the economy and less consequential in the long-running ideological dispute over the role of the government in American life. And yet the Republicans would be in a much better position to pass their entitlement reforms if they had asked for some shared sacrifice from the rich. As it is, the rest of their project is likely to be undone by their resistance to tax increases for any rich people, at any time, under any circumstances.