Republicans talk a good game about why the United States must reduce its debt. Republican Congressman Paul Ryan:
We face a crushing burden of debt. The debt will soon eclipse our entire economy, and grow to catastrophic levels in the years ahead.
On this current path, when my three children — who are now 6, 7, and 8 years old — are raising their own children, the federal government will double in size, and so will the taxes they pay.
No economy can sustain such high levels of debt and taxation. The next generation will inherit a stagnant economy and a diminished country.
Frankly, it’s one of my greatest concerns as a parent — and I know many of you feel the same way.
Mr. Ryan then proposed a plan whose purpose is purportedly to solve America’s debt problems. To its credit, this plan cuts trillions of dollars in spending. It bravely – or cruelly, depending on your political orientation – cuts the sacred Medicare program.
But then Mr. Ryan’s plan does something very strange, at least if its purpose is to reduce the deficit.
To cut the deficit one has to cut spending and raise taxes. Supply-siders argue that cutting taxes will lead to more revenues raised. Perhaps in a world in which taxation levels are at 90% or 70% that is true, but right now in the United States we’re definitely not at that level (the highest tax bracket is currently 35%). So one have to raise taxes to solve the deficit.
Instead of raising taxes, however, Mr. Ryan cuts trillions of dollars in taxes in his plan.
This is not something unique to this particular Republican. As a whole, the Republican Party steadfastly refused to allow a single dime in revenue increases during the debt ceiling debate. It proudly advocated extending the Bush tax cuts for everybody before that. Fighting against tax increases is a very core element of the Republican program today. The Republican Party does this because it goes against their philosophy of small government.
Now, that’s absolutely fine; there’s nothing wrong with arguing against tax increases. The Republican Party believes that America should lower taxes and lower spending. That’s a philosophy that it will try selling to the American people during election time, and then America will have a debate over that philosophy.
But there is a problem when Republicans sell their proposals as a way to solve the deficit. Cutting taxes and cutting spending does not solve the deficit anymore than “tax and spend liberals” do. Cutting taxes increases the deficit. That’s simply a fact (unless taxes are 70%, which they aren’t in this country).
The Ryan proposal, like most Republican proposals, is a proposal to change America to be more like what Paul Ryan wants America to be like. That may be a better America or a worse America. I personally believe that enacting Ryan’s plan hurts America; many Americans, for very valid reasons, believe that it helps America.
But when Mr. Ryan – or other Republican politicians – sells his proposal as a way to cut the deficit, that’s disingenuous. The plan simply isn’t a way to cut the deficit; it has too many trillions of deficit-raising tax-cuts inside it. It’s fine for Mr. Ryan to advertise his plan as the Republican vision of what America should be like. It’s not fine for him to advertise the plan as a way to cut the deficit. That’s not what Republicans really want; otherwise they would be willing to accept tax increases.
All in all, any Republican who’s not willing to increase taxes is not serious about cutting the deficit, full stop. And since almost no Republican nowadays will agree to tax increases, then the Republican Party as a whole really isn’t serious about reducing America’s debt. It certainly talks a good game. But when push comes to shove, what the Republican Party really wants is to change American to be more like it’s vision of what America should be like (rather than cut the deficit). That’s absolutely fine on its merits. Just don’t pretend that you’re trying to reduce the deficit when you do that.