House Speaker John Boehner said he will not agree to any budget compromise that raises taxes, even if it threatens our debt limit, in a speech Monday to the Economic Club of New York. His message was consistent with the GOP's platform that hammers home the point that "we have a taxing problem, not a spending problem" and, more bluntly, "tax hikes kill jobs."
But a senior GOP aide I spoke with, who asked that his name be withheld to speak freely, said the Republicans' no-tax-increase stance wasn't "intellectually honest" in the real world.
"There are two worlds," the source said. "One world is political, and the sole objective is to maintain party message. The other world is real, and in the real world, fixing the deficit is a matter of national survival. 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."
I repeated the question: Are you saying that the GOP's utter resistance to revenue increases is political? The aide responded: "Yeah." The source indicated that spending cuts should vastly outweigh tax increases, but that the final solution will probably be a blend.
There's nothing news-making about politicians being political and playing games of chicken with national policy. But I had never spoken to a GOP spokesperson, on or off the record, who had drawn such a clear distinction between the party's position against tax increases and the real-world need to raise tax revenue, even if slightly. (The source was equally damning of Democrats, who, the source said, dissembled when they talked about fixing the budget on the back of tax hikes for the rich and cuts to defense.)
The two-world frame is a brilliantly useful device. The next time you judge politicians talking about the deficit, ask yourself: To what world world do they belong? Republicans who say we can fix the budget while keeping taxes at historically low rates? They're in the political world. Democrats who say we can fix the budget by sparing 98 percent of tax payers and by concentrating all our cuts in defense? They're in the political world.
But watch out for the politician who says, loudly and regularly, "The final budget deal, if it comes, won't be perfect, but it will be a blend of wide-ranging spending cuts and broad tax increases that I can live with because the cause is greater than my ideology." Now that would be a pol living boldly in the real world.