15 December 2010

Does Gary Johnson know better?

The 2012 dark horse and libertarian favorite comes out against the bipartisan tax cut extension because -- wait for it -- the Bush tax cuts aren't made permanent.

Not because it would add to the short-term deficit. Not because the unemployment benefits aren't being paid for.

I really hope the former governor of New Mexico knows better.

Johnson said that Americans sent a message last month that the problem is government spending, not government revenues. Ostensibly, Johnson believes that Congress will be happy to find a trillion dollars to cut somewhere in the federal budget.

I'm sorry, but this is fundamentally stupid position as we've pointed out innumerable times before in this space. If the Bush tax cuts expire, taxes will go back to Clinton-era levels -- during which America enjoyed years of balanced budgets and the largest peacetime boom in history. I'm genuinely confused as to what is so objectionable about this.

I suppose I'm a realist in this regard. Even the greatest president of the 20th century, Ronald Reagan, wasn't able to engineer balanced budgets -- and in fact, doubled the size of the national debt in eight years -- by cutting taxes and crusading against wasteful spending. While Reagan certainly transformed the way most Americans view the regulatory apparatus of government -- and arguably set the table for the Clinton-era reforms that slashed the federal bureaucracy by 20 percent -- the cuts in spending (again, largely discretionary) weren't nearly enough to offset the massive cuts to federal revenues.

The "starve the beast" theory many conservatives hold -- which argues that Congress will necessarily cut spending if lower tax rates force it to tighten its belt -- has been proven false time and again. Anyone who argues to the contrary has spent the last 30 years with his head up his ass. This has never happened, period. Most legislators are focused on the near-term, and it's much more politically palatable to both cut taxes (or at least, prevent tax rates from going up) and not cutting anything of substance, or, more critically, adding new programs without paying for them.

Furthermore, as we've noted in this space, many conservatives' unyielding fight to protect the Pentagon's wasteful, bloated budgets -- which are now nearly triple 2003 levels -- gives them little to no credibility on fiscal issues.

Back to Gary Johnson: I get it. I don't want taxes to go up either, especially during the early stages of a fragile economic recovery. But anyone who argues that tax rates -- which have literally never been lower -- can't go up on anyone is fundamentally ignorant about the size and scope of our long-term fiscal issues and blind to the way Congress operates.

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