Appearing on MSNBC’s Jansing and Co. this morning, Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN) ran into some problems defending a GOP talking point when he claimed that the federal government has “too much” tax revenue coming in:
ROKITA: Washington does not have a revenue shortage problem, it has a spending problem. [...]
JANSING: I know that’s a talking point, I’ve heard it from every Republcian. The whole revenue/spending thing. But when I read indepdent economist’s analyses, they say you need to do both.
ROKITA: I don’t think so. … Again, we don’t have — we have too much revenue as it is. We spend to much.
The Republican message about a revenue vs. a spending problem is silly, as they are each flip sides of the same coin, but Rokita’s statement is just wrong. If the government spent only what it takes in in tax revenue, it would have to slash nearly half its funding to every program, from defense to Medicare, yet Rokita apparently thinks even that is too much. As a share of GDP, government revenue in 2009 (the most recent year available) was at its “lowest since 1950.” As this chart from the Congressional Budget Office demonstrates, the recession decimated the federal tax base:
But even before the recession, there simply wasn’t enough money coming into the federal government to cover costs, forcing the government to borrow 40 cents of every dollar it spends, as Republicans like to remind Americans so frequently.
It’s worth noting that the last time Republicans claimed there was too much revenue coming into the federal government, they ended up solving that problem by helping to create the deficits of today. “[M]ore than any other” reason, President Bush justified his 2001 tax cuts by claiming the budget surplus President Clinton created was actually bad. “A surplus in tax revenue, after all, means that taxpayers have been overcharged,” Bush explained. Of course, the Bush tax cuts are one of the largest contributors to today’s budget deficit by depriving the government of needed revenue.
There wasn’t “too much revenue” in 2001, and there’s far less today. As a member of the budget committee, Rokita should be aware of that.