Coburn Backs Simpson-Bowles . . .

. . . and the reliably sophomoric tax lobbyist Ryan Ellis of Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform calls him a liar, arguing that he has broken his no-tax-hike pledge. With friends like these, who needs lobotomies?

The Simpson-Bowles proposal would reduce tax rates but eliminate lots of deductions, meaning that some Americans would pay less taxes, some would pay more, and the federal government would, net, collect more revenue. (In theory, of course; actual mileage may vary.) We would stop providing special benefits for homeownership and the like. Higher net revenue: Ergo, it is tax hike, and Tom Coburn is a liar.

But: Certain naive supply-siders also believe that cutting tax rates also means that the government collects, net, more revenue. But somebody has to write a tax check for that higher revenue: Ergo, tax-rate cuts are tax hikes, and everybody is a liar. A paradox!

And, more important: We are running a deficit. Those bonds have to be paid someday. If the U.S. government spends $1 today, that is $1 that has to be paid in taxes — regardless of what today’s tax rates are. Meaning that,  in the real world, the actual tax-hikers are Grover Norquist and company, inasmuch as their preferred political approach has led inexorably to higher deficits, and therefore higher debt, and therefore, to higher taxes at some point in the future. If Simpson-Bowles helps to reduce the long-term deficit, then its supporters are in fact tax cutters, from the point of view of anybody smart enough to follow the timeline long enough. Holding tax rates steady today is not the same thing as fighting tax increases — not when there is a deficit. Norquist should call his outfit “Americans for Tax Deferral.”

ATR has done some good work in the past, but Ellis, with his loose language — and his even looser thinking — makes them look foolish. Worse, ATR reinforces the worst of Republican political habits: Tax like libertarians, spend like socialists.

I am grateful that Tom Coburn is in government and Grover Norquist and his henchettes are not.

– Kevin D. Williamson is deputy managing editor of National Review and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism, to be published in January.


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