The non deficit hawks

David Frum points out a report showing what I’ve been arguing, that none of the Republican candidates has a real plan to address the deficit. It goes back to the reason I wrote my series on deficits: for some reason the Republican party has decided that taxes are always too high, no matter how low they get, and that spending is too high, period. These are both foolish positions, the first more than the second.

The idea that government spending is too high isn’t necessarily unreasonable. But Europe has done an amazing job of showing us why cutting back right now would be a mistake. Our economy is still weak and unemployment is still high. Spending cuts hurt the economy and increase unemployment, and in our current situation it’s likely that significant spending cuts would end up causing more loss than they save. So this point is more a matter of poor timing or misplaced priorities. We can and should reduce spending, just not now.

But the other idea, the idea that taxes need to be cut further, is insane. The simple fact is that in order to pay for our obligations we need income. The government’s income is taxes, and taxes are low right now. The basic refusal to accept this fact is difficult for me to understand. And it is impossible to balance the budget while insisting on always further cutting taxes. An honest attempt at getting America fiscally sound on Republican principles would have to prioritize spending cuts much higher than tax breaks, but all of the Republican candidates offset the majority of their spending cuts with tax breaks. And that’s their initial plans, before lobbyists and special interests and political opposition force changes. Politically it will be much easier to achieve the tax breaks than the spending cuts.

So why? From Romney it seems likely that he’s simply pandering to the fact that conservatives hate taxes and government spending. Pandering is consistent with his political history. And his intelligence and ability to craft decent policy in MA suggests that he understands what’s wrong with his position. From Paul, I’d assume he truly believes in his ideas. He’s nothing if not consistent in his application of Libertarianism. Santorum and Gingrich I don’t know, but does it really matter? The end result will likely be the same since, like Romney, neither one would be likely to stand up against their own campaign rhetoric even if they don’t actually believe in it.

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