Politics & Policy

Why Republicans Should Never Raise Taxes

It’s a winning strategy and a sound policy.

Republican elected officials should never raise taxes.

Never. Ever.


Government spending at all levels in the United States is too high and existing government programs need to be reformed to spend less.

Raising taxes is what politicians do to avoid reforming government.

Reforming government is always the last resort of politicians — and tried only after they have exhausted every imaginable way to pry more money from taxpayers in order to fund the status quo and those who benefit from it.

Reforming government to cost less requires confronting the spending interests that benefit financially from unreformed spending. Government waste and corruption have appreciative constituencies that will fight all efforts at reform: teachers’ unions at the state and local levels, government workers with gold-plated pensions, government contractors. Tax increases fund Democratic precinct chairmen.

That is why pro-spending politicians are like a teenage boy on prom night. They keep asking for the same thing in different ways. (In this case, higher taxes.) The job of Republican political leaders is to say, “No. No. No.” Again and again. It does little good to say, “No. No. . . . Yes.”

The first lie liberals tell to get Republicans to agree to a tax hike: It’ll be temporary. The Spanish–American War was funded with a tax on phone bills that lasted 100 years longer than the war. Pennsylvanians are still paying a temporary 18 percent “Johnstown Flood Tax” on wine and spirits to fund rebuilding after the Johnstown flood of 1936. Temporary taxes are not.

The second lie: “Only the rich” will pay. The income tax we turn in today was originally set at 1 percent on income over $68,000 in today’s dollars ($3,000 at the time) and 7 percent on income over $11 million in today’s dollars ($500,000 at the time). Now half the nation is hit with the lowest rate of 10 percent — higher than the top rate on the “few” they were peddling in 1913.

The Alternative Minimum Tax was supposed to hit just 155 Americans; today it hits millions. This is called “trickle-down taxation.” Obama promised he would hike taxes on only those earning $250,000 or more. Sixteen days into his presidency, he raised taxes on tobacco users — average income, $38,000. At least seven additional taxes on middle-income Americans followed, in Obamacare.

The third lie: a “grand bargain” combining tax hikes and spending cuts. In 1982 Ronald Reagan was suckered with a promise of three dollars of spending cuts for every one dollar of tax increases. The tax hikes were immediate and permanent, but spending went up, not down. George H. W. Bush fell for the same Lucy-with-the-football ploy, though he was treated as a cheaper date. He was offered only two dollars of imaginary spending cuts for every real and permanent dollar in new taxes. Again, taxes went up, and spending went up.

In 2011, the drumbeat for a bipartisan, grand compromise to raise taxes and reduce spending grew louder and louder. Some otherwise sentient Republicans were lured by the siren song of establishment approbation. This time, they swore they would turn lead into gold, that the lions would lay down with the lambs (and the lambs would get up later). This time, spending cuts would be real.

But these would-be Ulysseses were tied to the mast of Republican anti-tax commitments. Boehner and McConnell said no to any tax hike, and the final deal was all spending cuts — real spending cuts thanks to a budget cap and a sequester to enforce them.

When, and only when, taxes were definitively taken off the table did spending restraint become possible.

Obama is now spending the rest of his presidency trying to pry those gains on spending restraint out of the hands of the American people and replace them with . . . tax hikes.

Those who said we could never deal with our entitlement problem without tax hikes were laughably wrong. The Ryan budget — which reforms entitlements, fixes the tax code without tax hikes, and represents a U-turn on our present road to serfdom — makes such a preemptive cringe look as pathetic as it is.

And for the few cynics in the crowd, Republicans should oppose any and all tax hikes because it’s the GOP brand that has brought political victories. In 1994, Ivory-soap percentages of Republican congressional candidates signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, a written, public commitment to voters to oppose and vote against any and all net tax hikes. They captured the House and Senate for the first time since 1952. This was just two years after the defeat of President Bush, who had heroically managed the collapse of the Soviet Union but lost the presidency because he raised taxes. Further, the GOP has held the House after it twice voted for the Ryan budget and refused tax hikes.

Oppose taxes. Win the primary. Oppose taxes. Win the general. Raise taxes, lose the next election.

Good policy is good politics.

— Grover Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform.


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