When Will the Media Crack Down on GOP's Tax Orthodoxy?

In the 1960s, Republicans blasted President John F. Kennedy's proposed tax cuts because it would increase in the deficit. In the 1980s, Reagan raised revenue multiple times as he simplified the tax code. But today, you can count the number of Republican politicians willing to raise taxes (not tax rates mind you, but revenues) on one hand. What happened?

Politically expedient political orthodoxy happened. All but 13 of 288 GOP lawmakers in Congress have signed a formal pledge not to raise taxes, Lori Montgomery reports. No Republican has voted for a major federal tax increase since 1991, according to pledge author Grover Norquist. How was the pledge born? In high school, of course. Montgomery writes...

The germ of the pledge came to [Grover] Norquist, he said, when he was 14 and thinking about a teacher's comment that no one knows who his or her congressman is. If Republicans were known as the party that never raised taxes, he recalls thinking, they would be spared spending "millions of dollars explaining to you who they are and what they stand for." They could just "stand up and say, 'I'm the Republican.' And you go: 'He won't raise my taxes and he won't steal my guns. Got it.' "

Politically, this is brutally genius. Substantively, it's utterly bankrupt.

Tax revenue as a portion of income is lower today than at any time since Medicare existed. Still, the GOP says it won't agree to any compromise that raises tax revenue. This fact doesn't need on-the-one-hands, or on-the-other-hands, and it doesn't deserve the typical soft-padded kiddie glove treatment of objective journalism. It should be called out for what it is: politically genius, substantively bankrupt hogwash. (Yes, if a Democrat says we can keep Medicare the way it is forever by raising taxes on the top two percent, he should receive the same "F" grade in budget arithmetic.)

When I asked a senior GOP aide about the party's position on taxes, he confessed to me (on condition of anonymity) that there are two worlds in Washington. "One world is political, and the sole objective is to maintain party message," he said. "The other world is real. When you get down to the real world decisions, it's not about whether to raise taxes. It's about the ratio of spending to revenue increases. That's the issue."

Yes, that is the issue. We're having a debate about a budget compromise. One party has put both taxes and spending on the table. The other party says it won't touch taxes, because Grover Norquist and the Ghost of Elections Past have convinced them to clutch a 20-year old policy position. No more taxes forever is not a policy position for an age of deficits, it's a 14-year old's slogan. Time for the media to say as much.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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