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September 28, 2007

Honesty in Taxes

You know, David Brooks is right: It is a bit sneaky to fund an expansion in S-CHIP by raising taxes on smokers. It should come out of general revenues, and if a tax raise is necessary, so be it. But the causal mechanism Brooks offers for this political cowardice is general in the extreme: "[Raising taxes] is honest and direct, and therefore impermissible."

No. Brooks' political movement, the Republican Party, has spent the last thirty years engaged in such ceaseless, anti-tax demagoguery, has spent so much time convincing Americans that they can pay for new programs by cutting taxes, has been so effective at ripping apart politicians who voted for tax increases, has been so disingenuous about relying on the deficit to avoid cutting spending, that politicians can't be honest about raising revenues, because they will be defeated by demagogues the moment they try.

If Brooks wants to write a column calling for more honesty in tax arguments, that's a column -- hell, that's a book -- about the sublime fiscal ad political irresponsibility of the Republican Party in recent decades. And having that column or book written by David Brooks would actually be quite meaningful. But this column, in which some vague allergy to honesty afflicts Washington, is not meaningful at all. It is not even an attempt to spread blame. It's an attack on the Democrats for playing by the rules the Republicans have set-up, rules that Brooks and many others have helped abet.

September 28, 2007 | Permalink


Indeed, Ezra. As a law-abiding American, I am happy to pay taxes, and yes, more taxes, for their intended purpose--to help provide a better environment for myself and my family in which to live. That equates to many things--improved infrastructure, improved services, police, firefighters, healthcare--you name it.

But the Right has successfully manipulated perception such that taxes = liberal bad. People apparently don't realize what taxes are for, and why they are not necessarily bad.

Posted by: terraformer | Sep 28, 2007 11:07:44 AM

Ezra,for those of us who haven't seen Hardball or can't even receive the channel: How did you fare there? Any comments?

Posted by: Gray | Sep 28, 2007 11:13:23 AM

"People apparently don't realize what taxes are for, and why they are not necessarily bad."

That's a good point by terraformer. The murkiness of administration, where tax dollars seem to vanish in the sun, without being clear what they achieved, is the main point working for tax reductions. If it would be transparent for what purpose a certain tax is used for, say, for instance, property taxes solely beeing earmarked for environmental projects, this would boost acceptance of tax increases. People accept regular payments like insurances aor cable fees because they see the benefit. If this would be the same for taxes, it would change the view of the public in a positive way.

Posted by: Gray | Sep 28, 2007 11:20:16 AM

I am very happy to see you point out the SCHIP expansion is to be paid through increased cigarette taxes. It's cowardly and unfair.

Did you know that in New Jersey, there is a $2.57/pack tax (and 7% sales on top of that) and if the SCHIP law was implemented, it would mean a $3.81/pack tax. A pack-a-day smoker in New Jersey would end up paying $1394 a year in taxes alone. (Other states have lower taxes, but there are a fair number with $2.00/pack)

And the SCHIP expansion is small, at least in federal budgetary terms. If the Democrats can't use SCHIP and the modest amount as a cudgel to make the point that general revenues should be used for health care, then they are missing a big opportunity.

But hey, smokers are a pariah group, and it appears that liberals are fine with a Manichean "tax the bad people" approach.

Posted by: Quiddity | Sep 28, 2007 11:49:57 AM

The dishonest discussion of the S-CHIP expansion bill is that the proponents put some poor child in front of the camera and tell how if it weren't for S-CHIP, their parents wouldn't be able to afford healthcare for little Johnny.

The reason the right is against this bill, and the points avoided by the left, is that it doesn't just expand S-CHIP for poor families, but makes socialized insurance inroads into the middle class, even those families who earn as much as $80,000.000 a year. It covers "children" as old as 25. There is little mystery why Bush calls this a back door attempt to socialize medicine.

If the Democrats were really, really worried about poor children, then introduce a bill that will address poor children and not the middle class and it will most likely pass.

Posted by: El Viajero | Sep 29, 2007 8:18:33 AM

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