The Corner

Liberals’ Deficit Chicken Is Taxpayers’ Soaring Eagle

Liberals are desperate to bully or chide the rest of the country into accepting massive new taxes to support the recent federal spending surge. Many opponents who resisted the spending on the grounds that it increased the budget deficit are now being called deficit chickens because they oppose the tax hikes needed to pay for all that spending. This is a nauseating development, as the charge comes from those whose actions prove they care not one whit about the nation’s finances. Nauseating or not, however, there is no reason to cave to such a frail argument.

Even under normal circumstances, at just over 18 percent the federal tax burden is already too high. Opponents of even higher taxes need to keep this in mind, just as they need to remember that the excessive budget deficit for 2010 and in the following years is not the result of a shortfall in revenue but is due entirely to an attempt by Obama and friends to increase the size of government substantially and permanently. Whereas federal spending as a share of our economy is typically just above 20 percent, under Obama’s budget it hits 25.1 percent, according to his own numbers, and stays around 23 percent for the balance of the decade.

Those who fight tax increases are not weak or hypocritical about the budget deficit. The deficit is dangerously high and must come down, or else we risk a fiscal crisis, as a recent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report makes clear. But there is a higher priority than reducing budget deficits caused by excessive spending, and that is to protect taxpayers from the insatiable appetite of the federal goliath. Lower taxes would allow individuals to keep more of their own property. It’s their money, not the government’s money on loan or bequest.

Lower taxes generally mean a stronger economy. The favorite tax hikes of the big-government brigade, like higher taxes on capital income and higher tax rates on small business, are precisely those that would do great harm to the economy now and in the long run.

Lower taxes also mean that, deprived of sustenance, the federal goliath must go on a diet. Spending will have to come back toward historical levels to avert the crisis of which the CBO warns. This would be a victory for the economy, for workers, and for individual liberty.

Lower taxes are evidently what the American people want, which is especially galling to the tax-increase crowd. If the proponents of higher taxes really thought the American people agreed with them and wanted higher taxes, the hikers would not hesitate to bring legislation to the floor of the House to jack up those taxes to fund even more government spending. Why, then, has the imperial Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) not brought the bill to the floor of the House? Why has no senator brought such an amendment or bill to the floor of the Senate?

Why? Because the American people would ship them to the dustbin of history in one election. And that is why the Democratic leadership has said it will deal with the expiration of the 2001/2003 tax relief after the election — so the voters won’t know how much the Democrats intend to contravene the American will when voters go to the polls. They say there’s no secret plan to raise taxes. They’re planning on it. They’re trying to keep it a secret. Who’s really the chicken now?

J. D. Foster is the Norman B. Ture senior fellow in the economics of fiscal policy at the Heritage Foundation.

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