[M]y back-of-the-envelope calculations, federal revenue has hovered around 18.3 percent of G.D.P. since 1980, breaking 20 percent only during the halcyon days of the dot-com boom. Under Simpson-Bowles, it would stick at 21 percent, a solid 10-15 percent boost over how the American government taxed its citizens in the Reagan and Clinton eras. And that’s just looking at government revenue as a share of the economy’s overall size. As an absolute number of dollars, obviously, a shift from 18 percent to 21 percent in a (hopefully) growing economy would increase federal revenues by leaps and bounds over today’s $2 trillion-plus size tax base.
Given these realities, I think it’s entirely appropriate that small-government conservatives have reacted relatively favorably but not ecstatically, since there isn’t anything here for partisans of a smaller federal leviathan to get ecstatic about. And by the same token (and to reiterate the point I make in today’s column), the fact that so many Democrats look at Simpson-Bowles’s vision of a future where the government takes in substantially more revenue than it does today and see a dreadful sell-out to the right tells you something important, and depressing, about liberal intransigence where the future trajectory of federal spending is considered.
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