Wednesday, May 17

When the piper asks to be paid.

The blog Approximately Perfect touched briefly on a question that has been nagging at me for a while now. It prompted me to ask a new Question o' the Day, which I now pose, in a completely non-smart-ass context, to all of you, whether you're liberal, conservative, libertarian, Marxist, populist, anarchist, Scientologist, orthodontist, whatever: Do any of you guys seriously believe we're not gonna need, or have, a major tax increase in the next 5-10 years?

Think about it: Our budget deficits for the last four years are, in order, $157.8 billion, $377.6 billion, $412.7 billion, and $318.3 billion. The fact that our deficits, while still staggeringly huge, have at least started to shrink would be cause for hope were it not for the fact that the national debt is increasing unabated -- $8,338,162,385,897.57 as of Tuesday, an increase of more than $400 billion just since the last fiscal year ended in September, at which point it had increased nearly $600 billion since the September before that. And other countries, one of the biggest being China, hold this particular I.O.U.

Now the quick-'n'-easy response to this situation is, "Well, we gotta cut spending." And yeah, it would be great if we could do that, and it would also be great if Elisha Cuthbert would pull up to my building in a Mercedes SLK, hand me the keys and a pair of Georgia season football tickets, and then take me out to Ben & Jerry's. But if there's one thing the last few years have made clear, it's that the current crop of goofballs in Congress has little to no interest in actually cutting spending. (And by the way, the first person to suggest that Republicans have any more moral superiority on this issue than Democrats is getting anonymously subscribed to a dozen gay-porn magazines.) You can rail away about spending all you want, but as long as assbags like Don Young roam the halls of Washington, I doubt a lot is going to get done about it.

Plus, even if we could lobotomize people like Young and Richard Shelby and whoever else and convince them to stop setting aside money for $250 million bridges, we'd still have to keep shoveling money into Iraq for both military and civilian/humanitarian expenses (for which, by the way, Rumsfeld just went to Congress holding a cardboard "Will Continue to Fuck Up for Food and Another $65 Billion" sign); we'd still have New Orleans to try and put together; and we'd also have to pay for a big-ass fence and whatever else Congress decides is going to be part of their solution to the immigration issue.

Seriously, people, deride me as an old-fashioned tax-and-spend liberal if you must -- though I defy anyone to tell me how that's any worse than a don't-tax-but-spend-anyway conservative -- but we're gonna need a tax hike pretty soon. Maybe it just involves rolling back the truly obnoxious tax cuts the wealthy have been getting for the past five years, maybe our situation is dire enough that everyone's gonna have to take a hit, but taxes are going to have to come up. And it probably needs to be sooner rather than later. Am I just Chicken Littling around by daring to come out and say so, or do you agree that we're really on the verge of (if not already completely immersed in) a fiscal pooch-screwing of monumental proportions?


Anonymous said...

Doug - you've just discovered the genius of Karl Rove's "deficits forever" plan.

See, when the Republicans (or just George Bush) leaves office, his predecessor has to clean up George's mess. Which inevitably means getting things back in order and stopping egregious tax cuts that aren't paid for.

So the next officeholder is left with the bill. When he/she raises taxes or is forced to cut spending, Republicans take to the streets, screaming "largest tax raise in history! Cutting money to the military and not supporting the troops!"

And they rely on voters' short-sightedness, whether rightly or wrongly, to not notice that the mess they're in wasn't created by the successor, but by George Bush and his lapdog Congress.

So the cycle moves on, and we elected Jeb (or another Republican).

The strategy isn't genius, but it's worked before. Remember George Bush the 1st and "no new taxes?"

Anonymous said...

Doug, your use of the English language is most enjoyable. Your column reminds me of a comment that Loch Johnson, a poli sci professor at Georgia for whom I was a TA 10 years ago made: "Would you rather have tax and spend Democrats or borrow and spend Republicans?" (Or WTTE). Count me among those who would prefer not to see a tax increase, but would also prefer to cut the hell out of things like the Medicare drug benefit, Social Security and the other formula driven entitlements that make up over 50% of the budget (probably over 60% at this point in time). This isn't politically feasible because Americans don't think they should ever have to give anything up, whether it's oil consumption or living off of someone else's income. Or because Americans think that our military should have enough money to walk into every country in the world and kick their ass. Or because Americans think they each need their own $250 million bridge.

But to answer your question: no. I don't think we'll make it through the next five to ten without a major tax increase. And it will probably be my least favorite kind of tax increase, a progressive tax increase. Hurray for lazy Americans.

Michael said...

Tax increase the second someone besides Bush and/or a Republican dominated Congress are gone.

So, as early as 2007.

Anonymous said...

I think an arguement could be made that we don't need a tax increase so much as a tax roll back to the levels they were when Bush took office, in other words, let his tax cuts expire. They haven't stimulated the economy (even the leading economic indicator for the rich, the Dow, isn't where it was when Clinton was in office.) Then neoconmen will get away with calling it the largest tax increase in history only if we let them get away with the not calling the Bush cuts the greatest redistribution of wealth ever.

This I think is obvious to anyone looking.

The real question is, "How do you know so much about subscribing to gay porn mags?" Is there something you are trying to tell us?

Anonymous said...

Here's the plan. If someone waste and waste and waste and runs up a huge debt, give them more money to spend. It has never worked but, it always seems to be the answer?

Anonymous said...

If the US polity elects responsible leaders, we will certainly see (and need) a tax increase. Of course, unless you live in Wyoming or Alaska, you probably have seen tax increases over the past ten years anyway. These increases come in the form of regressive "use taxes," or regressive sales taxes.

At any rate, if irresponsible Republicans continue to win elections, we'll simply see dramatic service roll backs. We'll see dramatic cuts in the EPA, OSHA, and every other alphabet agency that protects us from calamity at the federal level, combined with gargantuan deficits. At the State level, every service we now enjoy could be privatized (such as roads), which would lead to dramatic reductions in service quality for middle and lower class Americans. Of course, it could be argued that we no longer have a middle class, but that's a different discussion altogether...

Will said...

It could be I've had too much Neal Boortz kool-aid (Fair Tax and all), but I'd much rather have a complete tax overhaul (which would probably amount to a mild tax increase for me) rather than a hike.
I hope it'd happen, but I'm afraid I have to file it away with my "People, sick of both parties, vote for neither in the election, filling Congress with Libertarians, Green Party folks and other 3rd partiers" dream.
Part of the problem is both parties seem to have (to me anyway) lost their traditional ideals (that's not the best word, but my morning caffiene hasn't kicked in). The republicans now are the "Theocracy, gay marriage is the devil, let's go to war, and expand federal spending" party, the Dems are the "obsessed with GWB, don't quite agree with the republicans but have trouble coming up with too many of our own ideas" party.

Josh M. said...

Eh, everything I came in here to say was said by Charley and Mosher. I am disappointed with GWB's term, but for different reasons than most - his domestic fiscal policies have offended me much more than the war effort. Truth is, we need actual conservatives back in Washington. True, less government, less taxes, more personal responsibility conservatives, not these big-spending fatcats we have now. Part of me is hoping for a Democratic sweep over the next couple of years to send a message.

Anonymous said...

OK, no sentient being could disagree with your logic, but I just want you to look at your own particulars. You point to the deficit and the national debt. Why is it that the year-over-year increase in the debt and the annual deficit aren't the same?

The answer is that "the deficit" is a bullshit number published because it actually looks better than the other one. The trick is that they don't count the money that they borrow from Social Security as borrowed. Admittedly $400 billion isn't a whole lot better than $600 billion, but to the twisted mopes in DC, it sure sounds better.

When you use the reported deficit number you are playing DCs game. It's assinine. The language is the high ground, don't let the fuckers sucker you.

Anonymous said...

There was an interesting article in the most recent Atlantic, I think, about a conservative economist who has demonstrated that "starve the beast" (cuts taxes, not spending) doesn't work, because you're just giving people a 20% discount on whatever pork they're getting anyway - who couldn't get behind that? This economist also found that supply-side growth arguments don't hold either, and the neutral level of taxations is something like 19% of GDP...

Anyway, I don't think that there's any doubt that the government is going to have to both cut spending and increase taxes. If I thought that either congressional party could be trusted to do that, well hurrah. But I don't.

The sad thing is that we have a chance to really think about what this country is going to do with itself for the next 30 - 40 years. The side benefit of all the infrastructure neglect of the last 30 years is that we could redirect investment to interesting and varied energy alternatives, better road systems, etc. While we thinking about how to invest in stuff, we could rethink people issues like health insurance, retirement, income versus consumption taxes, all kinds of interesting stuff... but given the moral and intellectual pygmies that we elect, I suspect that in 40 years my children are going to be wondering what the f*ck we were thinking, not doing anything.

Joey said...

Could you please refer to Congressmembers as "dudes" and "dudesses"? I feel like the President would appreciate that.

Anonymous said...

My guess is we will have a tax increase in the next 5 to 10 years. An argument can be made that if we got back to good ole fashion divided government, we wouldn't need one. My hope is that the Democrats will take back the House this fall. Then they can stall any spending plan they don't like indefinately. I like it when the government basically does nothing. That just means they're not fucking something else up. Part of the reason for the economy's success during the Clinton years was that he couldn't get any grand schemes thru the Republican held Congress and Congress had to deal with Clinton to get their agenda thru. Like to see that again.

Term limit them all and do a random computer generated redistricting every 10 years just to shake things up. Complacency in both parties just breeds big spending gasbags.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

As someone pointed out, all that has to be done is to roll back the tax giveaways of the last six years to Clinton era levels, then I'd believe the budget is at a place where it could be managed in a snesible way.

That would only be a tax hike if you look at from the perspective of $250,000 per year, and if anyone here is making that, what the hell are you doing here?

Answering Doug's question in a straightforward way: there's no possible way to continue GWB's path in the foreseeable future. The country will need more money. There's no other conclusion.

And the answer to complacency isn't term limits- why kick out someone who actually does a good job?- but public financing of elections, so people other than career politican-whores can run for public office.

Anonymous said...

what anonymous (1) said:

a longterm republican plan to make social security, medicare et al, budgetarily infeasible and create an opportuntity to bash democrats for trying.
(good blog..., first time visitor, from FDL to Tbogg to here.)