Tax pledge puts GOP in difficult position
Published: Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, November 27, 2012 23:11
For the last 30 years at least, Republicans have promoted themselves are largely the anti-tax party. Most every Republican elected to national office has even gone so far as to sign a pledge against anything that could be seen as a tax increase.
This has caused countless problems for the national Republican party, as it puts them in a difficult position when budget negotiations come up. An outright refusal to raise taxes under any circumstances takes all bargaining chips off of the table. How can Republicans get Democrats to compromise to get real, meaningful entitlement reform if they have nothing to give them in return?
Obviously many Republicans are aware of this, but they’re scared by primary battles into coming out against any tax increases at all. If they don’t sign it, someone else will run against them, claiming they’re a “Republican in Name Only” (RINO) and say something silly like “I think there shouldn’t be any taxes at all.” And of course, anyone who says that in a Republican primary will probably win.
This was particularly evident in the 2012 presidential primary, where the candidates were asked if they would accept ten dollars in spending cuts for every one dollar of tax increases, and none of the nine candidates raised their hands. There was no way that all of them were telling the truth when they did that. I’m sure that Gov. Jon Huntsman, who had campaigned as a post-partisan, very moderate candidate would have seen the terrible position that a pledge not to increase taxes would put him in if he were elected.
I have a feeling that Mitt Romney wanted to raise his hand as well, but he would have been hit as a RINO by someone like Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who at one point said that she would rather see no taxes at all. Without any taxes at all, there would be no government to speak of for Bachmann to actually be president of.
This situation last winter shows the problem with the pledge perfectly: candidates end up being forced to lie about their true beliefs, and dishonesty is not something we need to encourage in politics.
Aside from those issues, there is another more pressing one with signing the pledge as well. It halts nearly any attempts for meaningful tax reform by Republicans. One of the major tax policy options supported by Republicans is the idea of a flat tax — one flat rate across all income brackets. The problem with this is that getting rid of deductions, as a true “flat tax” surely would, is considered a tax increase for the purposes of the tax pledge.
The same would be true for the FairTax, the plan to replace the income tax with a consumption based sales tax. This would be seen as a tax increase on the working class by the pledge.
I suppose I should be clear in saying that I think higher taxes should be avoided at all costs. They generally aren’t helpful in recovering from a recession, first of all, and there is some evidence that adding more complexity to the tax code could decrease revenue, as the cost of navigating the loopholes could go up. But because a simpler tax code would be the best option, this may mean slightly higher rates for some taxpayers. Surely Republicans can agree that we shouldn’t be taxing the poor at a higher rate than the wealthy, but remedying this would mean a tax increase for the wealthy.
If Republicans want to actually get real reforms done on entitlement policy, tax policy and everything else, they have to stop boxing themselves into the corner with impossible pledges.
Keene is a junior majoring in political science, economics and public policy. He can be reached for comment at email@example.com.