Conservatives Can Be Persuaded to Embrace Taxes—But Only If Poor People Pay Them

Via Harold Pollack, we learn that George Will and incoming House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp are eager to tackle the problem of poor people having too much money:

Many conservatives, including Camp, believe that although most Americans should be paying lower taxes, more Americans should be paying taxes. The fact that 46.7 million earners pay no income tax creates moral hazard — incentives for perverse behavior: Free-riding people have scant incentive to restrain the growth of government they are not paying for with income taxes.

“I believe,” Camp says, “you’ve got to have some responsibility for the government you have.” People have co-payments under Medicare, and everyone should similarly have some “skin in the game” under the income tax system.

As usual, this is based on the clever magic trick of pretending that poor people don’t pay state and local taxes. But whatever the merits of the position, it’s tactical important to keep in mind that this is the position. Lurking behind conservative rhetoric about the evils of government spending, is the reality of conservative hostility to taxes. And lurking behind conservative rhetoric about the evils of taxes is the reality of conservative hostility to taxing rich people. Which means that Republicans are likely to insist that any revenue-enhancing deficit-control package rely heavily on regressive measures. I think it’s important for climate hawks to be a player in this drama.

Many of us don’t share the right-wing’s view that poor people are the real lucky duckies in American society and thus have been somewhat reluctant to argue straightahead for carbon taxes unless they’re offset in a way that makes the vulnerable whole again. And that’s the right posture to have in an ideal world. But given that you can’t always get what you want, it’s important for us to insist that if new regressive taxes are put into place that taxes on greenhouse gas emissions be right square in the middle of the table. If the political system is prepared to impose a new regressive tax, that’s got to be a carbon tax or something similar.