The forgotten detail: the Bush tax policy was a failure

THE FORGOTTEN DETAIL: THE BUSH TAX POLICY WAS A FAILURE…. President Obama wants to extend lower tax rates for the middle class, while allowing the top rate for the wealthy to expire on schedule. Republicans want to make current rates permanent, adding $4 trillion to the debt over the next decade, and is prepared to kill middle-class breaks unless they get what they want. The public is siding with Obama; a few too many cowardly congressional Democrats are siding with Republicans.

A detail that’s doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves is that the policy everyone’s fighting over — the one the GOP will do anything to protect — didn’t work. Bush’s tax policy was a failure, and didn’t deliver on any of its intended goals. Bruce Bartlett offers a timely reminder.

Republicans are heavily invested in permanently extending the tax cuts enacted during the George W. Bush administration, all of which expire at the end of this year exactly as the legislation was written in the first place. To hear Republicans, one would think that the Bush tax cuts were the most powerful stimulus to growth ever enacted and only a madman would even think of allowing any of them to expire.

The truth is that there is virtually no evidence in support of the Bush tax cuts as an economic elixir. To the extent that they had any positive effect on growth, it was very, very modest. Their main effect was simply to reduce the government’s revenue, thereby increasing the budget deficit, which all Republicans claim to abhor.

It’d be one thing if the Bush tax policy were a sterling success. Republicans could at least go into this debate arguing, “Look how effective these rates have been! Changing course now would be crazy!”

But the policy the GOP and some terribly foolish Democrats want desperately to keep didn’t work. The lower rates didn’t create jobs; they didn’t generate the predicted boom; they didn’t keep a balanced budget; they didn’t meet any of the nation’s pressing needs.

So why are Republicans fighting so hard to continue with a policy that failed? Because this isn’t about the economy or the deficit or jobs — this is about the fact that Republicans start with the conclusion and work backwards to rationalize their decisions. In this case, that means starting with tax cuts heavily weighted to benefit millionaires and billionaires, not because they work, but because tax cuts heavily weighted to benefit millionaires and billionaires necessarily are worthwhile. Why? Because they’re tax cuts heavily weighted to benefit millionaires and billionaires.

That they failed doesn’t matter. That they won’t improve the economy now doesn’t matter, either. The GOP knows what it wants, and merit, evidence, and reason are hopelessly irrevelant.