Last week, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) placated right wing anti-tax crusaders by saying that he’d likely oppose any recommendations for tax increases that come from President Obama’s debt commission. “Everybody knows I’m a tax cutter and not a tax increaser, so the odds are that I probably couldn’t support something that would increase taxes,” he said.
Hatch is one of 33 members of the Senate who have signed an anti-tax pledge circulated by Americans for Tax Reform, an organization headed by Grover Norquist, who has famously said that he wants to “reduce [government] to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” 31 of the 41 Republican members of the Senate have signed the pledge.
I’ve been arguing that an adamant refusal to consider any tax increase constitutes an approach to budgeting that is fundamentally not serious, as there is simply no way to balance the federal budget on spending cuts alone. And evidently, Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) agrees, as he called the anti-tax pledge “inconsistent with the oath of office” and challenged those who advocate only spending cuts to look at their numbers:
“I think that a lot of my colleagues have taken the pledge, and what they have to understand is that that pledge is inconsistent with the oath of office that they took when they became members of the United States Senate,” said Voinovich…“You know, some of my Republican friends are saying, ‘Oh, boy, you know, look at the president’s numbers,’ and so forth, but they fail to realize, what are your numbers?”…”I have to tell you something: If we don’t get something out of that commission, we are over the cliff.”
It’s nice to hear this from an active Republican member of Congress (albeit, a retiring one), as the only people on the right who have criticized the GOP’s staunchly anti-tax stance are no longer in office, like former senator Pete Domenici or former Reagan official Bruce Bartlett.
Right now, taxes are the lowest that they’ve been in 50 years, and the U.S. currently has the fifth lowest taxes as a share of GDP among economically developed nations. Even if we tried to balance the budget entirely on tax increases (which no one is trying to do), the United States would still be in the bottom ten.
As Paul Krugman explained, a serious attempt to eliminate the deficit with a mix of spending cuts and tax increases could be crafted and “you would end up still with the U.S. having lower taxes than almost all other OECD countries.” But, he added, “all of this hinges on being able to actually talk about tax increases, even modest ones, without it being political suicide.” And organizations like Americans for Tax Reform are poisoning the ability to do that.