‘Too much revenue’

‘TOO MUCH REVENUE’…. About 10 years ago, President Clinton handed off a large budget surplus to President Bush, who immediately set out to make it disappear. As the Republican president saw it, if the government was taking in more than it was spending, it necessarily meant Washington was “charging” the American people too much.

The government, the argument went, had “too much revenue.” The proof was right there in the surplus — roughly $200 billion more was coming in than going out.

A decade later, the Republican approach has changed. If Bush’s logic (I use the word loosely) were right, and surpluses, by definition, meant Americans were charged too much, then it stood to reason that deficits, by definition, meant Americans are being charged too little.

Except, that’s not how this game works. We have a $1.5 trillion deficit and a $14 trillion debt, most of which is the result of Republican fiscal irresponsibility. But the standard GOP line now is that it’s important to address this problem without taking in so much as an extra penny.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) got this started late last year, arguing, “I really want to see that we can come together and agree upon the notion that Washington doesn’t need more revenues right now.” As foolish as this argument sounds, it’s become a standard GOP talking point. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) declared this week, “We don’t need more revenue!” Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Texas) insisted yesterday that the federal government has “too much revenue as it is.”

I’d like to think this is absurd on its face. The analogy is admittedly imprecise, but imagine a family was in debt and struggling with its finances, and the breadwinners declared, “We’ll be better off if don’t bring any additional money. Indeed, maybe we should ask our employers to cut our pay.”

Alex Seitz-Wald explained this well.

As a share of GDP, government revenue in 2009 (the most recent year available) was at its “lowest since 1950.” … But even before the recession, there simply wasn’t enough money coming into the federal government to cover costs, forcing the government to borrow 40 cents of every dollar it spends, as Republicans like to remind Americans so frequently. […]

There wasn’t “too much revenue” in 2001, and there’s far less today.

To reduce a budget shortfall, the government needs more money coming in, less money going out, or some combination of the two. The Republican solution in 2011 is to ensure the government has less money coming in, which isn’t one of the sane options.