The conservatives' tax scandal

Essential piece in Politico yesterday by Bruce Bartlett, the former Bush I and Reagan aide who makes a cameo appearance in my book, The Tyranny of Dead Ideas, as the last honest Republican when it comes to taxes. Bartlett, who comes from the libertarian wing of the party, but who is an intellectually honest analyst, was basically banished from the GOP a few years back when he started writing that taxes would need to rise to fund the boomers' retirement, and that therefore the GOP's tax cutting mantra was doomed. Instead, he said, Republicans should be figuring out how to finance the revenue we'll need in ways that are smartest for the economy. Today's piece updates some of these points:

Conservatives would better spend their diminished political capital figuring out how to finance the welfare state at the least cost to the economy and individual liberty, rather than fighting a losing battle to slash popular spending programs. But this will require them to accept the necessity of higher revenues...It is simply unrealistic to think that tax cuts will continue to be a viable political strategy when the budget deficit exceeds $1 trillion, as it will this year. Nor is it realistic to think that taxes can be kept at 19 percent of GDP when spending is projected to grow by about 50 percent of GDP over the next generation, according to both the Congressional Budget Office and the Government Accountability Office. And that's without any new spending programs being enacted.

These truths are obvious to anyone who bothers to look at the fiscal facts. It's a measure of the GOP's intellectual bankruptcy that none of its leaders are willing to acknowledge this publicly (and that they exiled an honest fellow like Bartlett for daring to utter the unpleasant truth). But one thing is certain: until the party sheds this dead idea, it has no chance of developing a new and coherent governing philosophy that bears any relation to the real world. Yes, I'm sure it's painful for Republicans to let go of the tax cutting mantra that has been so powerful for the party since 1980. But, as Ronald Reagan loved to say, "facts are stubborn things."

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