The sensible, popular debt-reduction idea

THE SENSIBLE, POPULAR DEBT-REDUCTION IDEA…. David Stockman, Reagan’s first budget director, isn’t especially impressed with the House Republican budget plan. The problem? The Paul Ryan vision only deals with one side of the ledger.

“It doesn’t address in any serious or courageous way the issue of the near and medium-term deficit,” Stockman told Brian Beutler. “I think the biggest problem is revenues. It is simply unrealistic to say that raising revenue isn’t part of the solution. It’s a measure of how far off the deep end Republicans have gone with this religious catechism about taxes.”

Exactly. We’re really just talking about arithmetic — to reduce a budget shortfall, the government needs more money coming in, less money going out, or some combination of the two. Reagan, during and after Stockman’s tenure, wasn’t exactly a model of fiscal responsibility, but he raised taxes seven of the eight years he was in office, precisely to avoid spiraling deficits.

But that was before the “religious catechism about taxes.”

The punditocracy has already decided Paul Ryan is “courageous and serious,” but if he were really courageous and serious, he’d be willing to incorporate revenue enhancers (you know, tax increases) into the package. Instead, he slashes taxes on the wealthy and powerful while slashing benefits for the elderly, disabled, and working poor — Ryan is apparently trying to become a villain in a modern-day Dickens novel — making it harder, not easier, to achieve his alleged goal.

Let’s make this plain: if the point is to tackle the debt issue, tax increases have to be, in Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ (R-Ga.) words, “part of the mix.” To argue otherwise is fundamentally cowardly and unserious.

Annie Lowrey had a good piece on this the other day, explaining why the Ryan plan reinforces the argument about tax increases.

Of course, balancing the budget is never easy. But, by mandating harsh program cuts without providing realistic new sources of tax revenue, the Ryan plan makes it unnecessarily hard. What the Ryan plan really shows — inadvertently, I am sure — is that balancing the budget will require raising taxes. […]

Leaving aside morality, just think about math. Ryan calls the budget deficit an “existential threat” to the United States. He has scary charts. He talks a lot about a debt crisis, with the United States’ investors losing confidence in the country and refusing to lend to it. But he does not actually balance the budget or tackle the debt until after 2030, at which point America has racked up about $14 trillion in new red ink. The problem gets worse before it gets better, in part because America’s richest get a tax break beyond what the expiring Bush tax cuts give them.

The fiscally responsible choice is to raise taxes while also reforming entitlements, as any of the half-dozen more feasible and less cruel plans floating around do. (Just letting the Bush tax cuts expire — which would require no congressional action at all — would be a good start.) They might not be as bold. But they don’t require magical thinking to make it all add up.

The funny part of this, at least to me, is that the right’s efforts to make tax increases some sort of new third rail in American politics hasn’t worked at all. The most recent Washington Post-ABC News poll asked Americans the best way to reduce the deficit. The Republican mantra — the focus must be on spending cuts, and nothing else — received 31% backing. A combination of cuts and tax increases was preferred by a 64% majority.

Hell, 47% of Republicans believe a combination of spending cuts and tax increases is the way to go.

Last week, even Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), one of the chamber’s most conservative members, endorsed the notion of spreading the pain around: “My taxes are going to go up. Sorry, they’re going to go up.”

If deficit reduction is the new establishment priority, there’s no way to have the conversation and take taxes off the table. If the GOP didn’t want to hear this, Republicans shouldn’t have started the conversation.