Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Calling a sacred cow what it is

    I wanna grow up to be a politician, and take over this beautiful land. — The Byrds

    Eric Cantor needs to grow up. Unfortunately, the Republican House majority leader equates a tantrum with statesmanship. He is prepared to hold his breath until, well, until the federal government ceases to operate.

    President Obama should grant his wish. Take the Bill Clinton route. Put the blame for the collapse of debt-ceiling talks on the shoulders of those who refuse to talk.

    Cantor and Arizona Sen. John Kyl abruptly withdrew from talks overseen by Vice President Joe Biden because Biden and the Democrats wanted to talk about ways to raise revenue by closing tax subsidies and loopholes that benefit those who need no tax break.

      The latest impasse drew President Obama directly into the fray, the White House saying Republicans need to stop protecting "some of their sacred cows."

       That's putting it exactly as it should be. The GOP makes a habit of saying how the opposition fights to protect spending. What about tax dodges and subsidies?

      The administration has made compromises. The Bush tax cuts were allowed to endure into a new year — hundreds of billions of dollars in debt left on the backs of future taxpayers, plus interest.

       Obama has recommended spending cuts galore, including a freeze on federal pay. That's called compromise. Do the Republicans not have any responsibility to reciprocate?

        This is all about the absurd notion that somehow we can achieve $2 trillion in deficit reduction without increasing revenue in any way.

         With tea parties providing loud encouragement, the Republican Party adheres to the assertion that the revenue the federal government has is sufficient to pay for decades of activism including the largest peacetime defense buildup (Reagan), three wars (G.H.W. Bush, G.W. Bush) and a vastly underpriced expansion of Medicare.

       Built into this is the spiel that America's tax rates are oppressive and constantly rising. That, upon inspection, is a cured meat which could be easily shot down by Carl Sagan's "baloney detection kit."

       Taxes — federal and state combined, are their lowest as a percentage of GDP as they have been at any time since 1950. As Fareed Zakaria writes in Time magazine, the United States is among the lowest taxed of the large industrial nations.

      Anyway, Obama and the Democrats aren't proposing to raise the taxes of all Americans, though they should. Every American should pay more for all the government they've bought, and substantially more, because simply cutting spending is not going to resolve our debt problem. Even the draconian debt reduction plan of Illinois Republican Rep. Paul Ryan assumes tax hikes would have to come into play, um, way down the line.

    Why not now? How now, sacred cow?

     Republicans let out shrieks when Bill Clinton managed to engineer a tax increase on America's wealthiest taxpayers. Fiscal visionaries like Phil Gramm and Jesse Helms said the economy would tank. Devastation. Armageddon. What happened, if anyone recalls, was quite the opposite. For a brief glimmer of time the federal government actually bought back some of its debt: Yes, a surplus.

      When a one-vote majority on the Supreme Court gave George W. Bush custody of that surplus, he of "cut taxes first, figure it all out later," the surplus evaporated quicker than dew on a gila monster.

     It is high time to start thinking of our misguided tax policies in the same way we spend on things we don't need, like, for instance, policing the world against threats real and imagined.

      For one, says Robert McIntyre of Citizens for Tax Justice, our tax system "lets many of our biggest and most profitable corporations pay little or no tax."

      "Little or no." That's what the Eric Cantors of the world call oppressive and confiscatory. They're going to hold their breaths rather than address these tax inequities.

      Let them, Mr. President.

      Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

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