Boehner, Pence signal a new debate on tax cuts, deficits

BOEHNER, PENCE SIGNAL A NEW DEBATE ON TAX CUTS, DEFICITS…. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) appeared on “Meet the Press” yesterday, where he predictably called for keeping the Bush/Cheney tax policies in place indefinitely. Host David Gregory asked the obvious question: given GOP rhetoric on the deficit, how do Republicans intend to pay for these massive tax breaks?

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Gregory aired a clip from Alan Greenspan, who supports allowing the lower Bush rates to expire on schedule, and asked Boehner to respond. The Republican leader kept saying the same thing, over and over again, reiterating his support for tax cuts. Gregory kept asking whether those cuts would be paid for, and Boehner kept refusing to answer. If I counted correctly, the host posed the question seven times — and seven times Boehner just didn’t want to respond directly.

At one point, Boehner even accused Gregory of trying to “get into this Washington game and their funny accounting over there.” It was the cheapest of pathetic copouts — asking if lawmakers intend to pay for their own ideas is a “Washington game”? Please.

Later, in the same program, Gregory asked House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) to reconcile the gap between GOP rhetoric on deficit reduction and GOP rhetoric on tax cuts. He refused to answer the question, too.

It was rather painful to watch all of this dodging, but I was actually quite pleased with the exchanges. It would have been easy for Boehner and Pence to simply take the usual GOP line — policymakers shouldn’t even care if tax cuts are paid for — but they seemed reluctant to blatantly lie. I found it oddly refreshing.

Indeed, note the recent trend here. Last week, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) conceded that extending Bush’s tax policies would increase the deficit, but said “the priority” has to be the economy. Yesterday, Boehner and Pence implicitly made the same case.

This is more important than is evident at face value. The Democratic line for the last year and a half has been that the deficit matters, but economic growth and job creation matter a lot more. Slowly but surely, leading Republicans seem to be coming to the same conclusion.

At this point, then, it’s time for a new debate. For 18 months, it’s been economic growth vs. deficit reduction. Boehner, Pence, and Cantor are signaling a new argument — economic growth through spending vs. economic growth through tax cuts.

Since we already know we get a much better bang for the buck when it comes to spending, it’s an argument Republicans will lose, at least if reality has any bearing on the outcome of policy debates.