Stephen Moore, Body Snatcher

by Ramesh Ponnuru

Stephen Moore says that conservatives like me, who support an expansion of the tax credit for children, are conducting an “assault” on the legacy of Jack Kemp. Moore is wrong about that: At several points in his career, Kemp supported the child credit and its expansion. He was for it in 1996, advocating its creation in his speech to the Republican convention. He wrote in favor of expanding it in 2008, as well, and commended John McCain for offering a different form of tax relief for children.

Like every other doctrinaire supply-sider who has attacked Robert Stein’s chapter in Room to Grow for advocating an expanded child credit, Moore does not mention, let alone confront, the argument Stein makes. He claims that the policy is “pure redistribution,” when Stein’s argument is that it would reduce the amount of redistribution that the government does.

Moore doesn’t think that middle-class families need tax relief as much as they need economic growth. But why shouldn’t they have both, as Kemp consistently advocated? And why not couple tax relief for families with measures that would do more to promote growth? That’s what Stein is for, and what Senators Mike Lee and Marco Rubio are working on. Moore suggests that the only tax cuts worth supporting are those that directly promote economic growth. Why not change the tax code to make government policy less distortive of family life too? Moore puts in a kind word for cutting taxes on investment. Why doesn’t investment in the next generation count?

He complains, further, that expanding the child credit would take people off the tax rolls. He says, without elaborating, that it would be a political and economic disaster to do this. I had hoped that conservatives had gotten over this fallacy after Mitt Romney’s comment about the 47 percent of people who pay no income taxes. But let’s go through it one more time. There is no evidence that people become less conservative when they leave the income tax rolls; no evidence, in particular, that the child credit has had any such effect; and no historical correlation between conservatism and the percentage of the population paying income tax.

I can’t imagine Ronald Reagan or Jack Kemp cheering the idea that more people in the bottom half of the income spectrum should pay income taxes. If anyone is betraying their legacy, it’s not those of us seeking tax relief for families.

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