Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Cathedral of the Sacred Tax Cut

   False prophets, says the Book of Matthew, are those who "come at you in sheep's clothing," but who "inwardly are ravenous wolves."

   Congressman Paul Ryan, a Catholic, tells us his call to gut social programs is in keeping with his faith, and is endorsed by his pope.

   This would be a damning falsehood were Ryan's pope the one who offices at Vatican Square. It's not. The congressman's holy man has lush digs in Washington. There, moneyed interests drape papal vestments on Grover Norquist, the pope — er, president — of Americans for Tax Reform.

     Remember always that when these people speak on Norquist's behalf (and most Republicans in Congress are so tasked): Their No. 1 objective is cutting taxes for people who have all they need, and never about addressing those in need.

     When Ryan, interviewed on a Christian television show, painted his fiscal designs as a godly mission, he made some Catholics upset. Catholics know something about missions.

      The other day as Ryan defended his line before an audience at Catholic Georgetown University, an indignant crowd protested, including a man who, matching the Illinois congressman's own audacity, identified himself as GOP Je$us. He recited the "Me-Attitudes":

   "Blessed are the rich. The reign of this world is ours . . . Blessed are those who show no mercy — no mercy to the poor, to the women and children, the elderly and the homeless . . ."

     Audacious, yes, but in tune with concerns of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

     The conference has denounced Ryan's budget — approved by the tea party-controlled House —  that would dramatically cut food stamps at a time of protracted high unemployment while at the same time — praise Je$us — cutting taxes by $2 trillion.

      What? Now? Aren't we told that the deficit is the nation's No. 1 problem?

      All the better to cut food stamps, and Medicaid, and college loans, quoth the wolves.

      At this point we need to remind ourselves how we got here. Overspending got us here. But not just overspending. Undertaxing, too. Taxes as a percent of GDP are the lowest since the early 1950s, deficits be damned.

      The trend dates back to Ronald Reagan and a deceitful round of budgets, noted for "magic asterisks," a term coined by his incredulous budget director, David Stockman.

      What happened under Reagan and succeeding GOP administrations was what Stockman saw: impossible arithmetic — cutting taxes, then instead of actually cutting spending sufficiently to make up the shortfall, just letting it ride. Deficit by design.

       This is and was all fine by people who, in Norquist's phrasing, wanted to shrink government "down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub." Ultimately, they trusted, concerns about deficits would cause draconian, Ryan-style budgets.

       Ah, but you see, the government you would drown is also the government that helps you.   

      Such was the realization last week when a backlash caused Congress to back away from a component of the Ryan budget which would have caused interest rates on college loans to double this summer.

      Mitt Romney, who embraced the Ryan-Norquist budget, did the same about-face, or shook his Etch-a-Sketch, or whatever. He said it was wrong to make debt-ridden collegians that much more in debt. Yes, it was, and is, wrong.

       The fact is, however, that someone will have to pay for the tax cuts and merciless budget cuts that tea-party Republicans want. And those feeling the pain won't be people of privilege, of full bellies, of 30-gallon gas tanks, of wine cellars.

        "Your heart will always be where your treasure is," wrote Matthew — an oath that, though biblical, has received the gold-embossed seal of approval as well from Grover Norquist.

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

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