Wouldn’t it be fun to do a money-dance around town, throwing borrowed hundred dollar bills to passersby, while arranging to have others pay for the adventure?
That in essence has been the Republicans’ two-step: Spend money you don’t have, and cut taxes so you have even less – then let future generations foot the bills. The beauty part is that the people who will eventually pay are currently more focused on their Tickle Me Ernie dolls than their future obligations as taxpayers.
There is something fundamentally immoral about this arrangement, which is one reason Democrats won back Congress in November 2006. A few genuinely conservative Republicans understand the fiscal depravity of spending and not taxing. But in the view of the party leaders, only suckers pay their bills.
And they were out tapping their toes late in December. The president and congressional Republicans blocked Democratic efforts to offset the costs of fixing the alternative minimum tax with new revenues. When Democrats took the majority in Congress, they vowed to honor the PAYGO rules. That means any spending or tax cuts must be matched by spending curbs or boosts in revenues.
“It is critical,” the Concord Coalition, a bipartisan group of deficit hawks, wrote in November, “that Congress resist the pressure to weaken PAYGO by exempting a politically popular item such as AMT relief.”
Of course, the AMT had to be fixed. Without the one-year patch, an additional 19 million middle-class Americans would have been charged a tax meant for rich people.
But Republicans forced a detour around the PAYGO rules. As a result, another $50 billion will be strapped onto the national debt.
“The effort to ‘pay for’ the AMT is highly offensive to members of my side of the aisle,” explained Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
And the White House spokeswoman praised Congress for passing the legislation “without raising taxes.”
We beg to differ with that analysis. Someone’s taxes will pay back that $50 billion – plus interest – and we know whose. Furthermore, the AMT fix was to be offset by closing a loophole that lets hedge fund managers pay taxes at lower rates than their chauffeurs. Sounds more like a strike for tax justice than an unfair burden on billionaires.
The Bush administration’s religious prohibition against paying its bills has infected the Republican presidential race. Unlike Washington politicians, state officials don’t have the luxury of spending more than they have. As governors, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee both raised revenues to cover shortfalls in their state budgets. For the sin of fiscal responsibility, the Republican free-lunchers taunt them.
The Cato Institute has whacked Romney for balancing the Massachusetts budget, in part by raising a bunch of fees. Romney has responded that the fees generated $240 million in new revenues, which were a mere drop in an oceanic $3 billion budget gap that he closed largely by other means.
The Club for Growth is bashing Huckabee over his tax policy in Arkansas. As governor, Huckabee raised more taxes than he cut. At the same time, he turned the state’s $200 million budget shortfall into an $844 million surplus and repaired some roads that were in terrible shape. The biggest tax increases was forced by an Arkansas Supreme Court ruling on the state funding of school districts.
You’d think a record of balancing budgets under very difficult circumstances would be a point of pride for a candidate. But that assumes you care about balanced budgets, a value not deeply shared by most Bush Republicans. It’s spend now, and let the kids pay later. After all, the toddlers playing with their Sing & Go Choo-Choos will never know what hit them.
©2008 The Providence Journal Co.