From taxed enough already to spending enough already


By JONATHAN GURWITZ

New York Times News Service

Here’s a modest proposal for Tea Partiers who have reinvigorated conservative politics since 2010. You entered the political process under the slogan “Taxed Enough Already,” the words that provided the acronym for your movement.

In 2013, it’s time — at least temporarily — to shift the focus to government spending rather than taxation. What’s needed now is a movement committed to making the case that government spends enough already.

Why the shift?

First, the people have spoken. Barack Obama and Democrats ran on a platform of raising taxes, even if they couched that policy in deceptive language about asking the wealthiest Americans to pay a little bit more.

A majority of voters endorsed the idea of raising taxes on someone else, which may bring in an additional $62 billion annually in revenue.

Until a majority of far less wealthy Americans come to the realization that their own taxes will have to be raised to reconcile an endless series of trillion-dollar federal deficits, the focus on taxation is largely ineffectual.

Second, cutting taxes — irrespective of who controls Congress or the White House — has proven to be an ineffective remedy for debt. The last 12 years offer ample evidence that neither Republicans nor Democrats budget on the basis of revenue. Spending is on auto-pilot.

The primary consequence of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge is that lower taxes ensure higher deficits. Unless taxpayers are actually forced to pay for current spending rather than foisting debt onto future generations, an insufficient number of voters will feel taxed enough already.

Third, discussion of the national debt is an abstraction for most Americans. To paraphrase Stalin, a foreclosure on a house or repossession of a family car is a tragedy. A $16 trillion national debt is merely a statistic.

On the other hand, expenditures of $600 for toilet seats or $7,600 for coffee makers are still enough to provoke public outrage. In the Gilded Age of Solyndra, the federal government is brimming with such gold-plated excesses.

In 2011, the Government Accountability Office issued a report identifying 81 areas where Congress and the White House could “reduce or eliminate unnecessary duplication, overlap or fragmentation or achieve other potential financial benefits.” A year later, the GAO found its recommendations had been fully implemented in only four areas, partially so in 60, and not at all in 17 others.

The GAO only says that its recommendations could “save tens of billions of dollars annually.” Deficit hawks such as Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., argue that the actual value of those savings is closer to $100 billion — still not enough to make a serious dent in Obama-era deficits, but no less consequential than those increased taxes on the wealthiest Americans.

“If we’re going to raise revenue and if we’re going to raise it in any form,” one debt worrywart said on “Face the Nation” last month, “then we darn well better cut spending, because spending is the biggest part of this problem.”

That wasn’t Coburn or some other tea party Republican. It was Erskine Bowles, Bill Clinton’s former chief of staff and President Obama’s own co-chair of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.

A truism of big government is that, as Margaret Thatcher observed, big spenders always run out of other people’s money. When taxes go up, spending goes up. When taxes go down, spending still goes up — along with deficits.

Generational theft allows a majority of Americans to believe they’re not being overtaxed. No one should be under the illusion, however, that the federal government isn’t spending enough already.

 

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