Sunday, April 03, 2011

What would you pay for?

In the current debate over the deficit and budgets, Republics want to take any tax increase off the table. Their current framing is, we don't have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem. That is, cut spending; do not raise taxes.

It is clear that Republics and Democrats have a different philosophy about the purpose of government and how to pay it. In general, Republics believe that less government is always better (at least that is what they say, if not always what they do). Government is the problem, not the solution. Republics want to decide how much they are willing to spend on government (which is always less than what we spend today) and then determine how to distribute that money. Preference is always given to the generators of wealth.

In general, Democrats believe that government is about creating a civil society. Democrats would rather first decide what is important to do and then decide how to pay for it (sometimes). Preference is given to the less fortunate. The Democratic position is obviously harder to sell.

While Democrats have certainly authorized new spending without determining how the additional expenditures would be paid for, they managed to live under the PAYGO rules of the 1990's. Had these rules been extended, the budget busting 2003 tax cut, the Medicare prescription program and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan might have had to have been paid for instead of just adding to the debt.

The two Bush era tax cuts added significantly to our debt. Let me state again, tax cuts when you are already running a deficit without the same dollar cuts in spending add to the long term debt! Republics constantly berate Democrats about spending more than we have revenue to pay far and passing that debt on to future generations. Fair enough. But cutting taxes without cutting spending has the same affect and is just as destructive. The math is simple. Revenue minus expenses equals surplus or debt. When you are already running a deficit, increasing spending without increasing revenue will increase the debt. Likewise, decreasing revenue without decreasing spending will increase the debt.

Contrary to popular belief, the Republics have actually been winning the deficit/debt debate. "Starve the Beast" has been Republic dogma since Ronald Reagan. This is the policy of always cutting taxes without concomitant cuts in spending in the belief that the eventual fiscal crisis will force drastic decreases in the size of government.

Republics have succeeded. The public believes we have a fiscal crisis generated by too much spending not a problem generated by a weak economy, tax cuts and spending. The discussion is how do we cut taxes, expenditures and the size of the government. Why aren't we also discussing what functions of government are worth paying taxes to support and how do we generate the revenue to pay for them?

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