Keeping ‘intellectual honesty’ under wraps

The line from congressional Republicans on taxes isn’t exactly subtle. For all the talk about a debt “crisis” and the desperate need to close the budget gap in order to save civilization from collapse, GOP leaders have said any tax increase on anyone at any time by any amount is “off the table.” It’s a “non-starter.” To agree to such a radical idea — even one penny in additional revenue — would “wreak havoc” on the economy.

Derek Thompson talked to a senior Republican aide yesterday who conceded — so long as he could maintain anonymity — that the GOP line just isn’t “intellectually honest” given the debt-reduction goals.

“There are two worlds,” the source said. “One world is political, and the sole objective is to maintain party message. The other world is real, and in the real world, fixing the deficit is a matter of national survival. When you get down to the real world decisions, it’s not about whether to raise taxes. It’s about the ratio of spending to revenue increases. That’s the issue.”

I repeated the question: Are you saying that the GOP’s utter resistance to revenue increases is political? The aide responded: “Yeah.” The source indicated that spending cuts should vastly outweigh tax increases, but that the final solution will probably be a blend.

To a certain extent, this is reassuring. Over the last several decades, this has been the traditional model — responsible policymakers who want to reduce the deficit have agreed in advance to raise taxes and cut spending, with the argument over the ratio. It’s what led Reagan, H.W. Bush, and Clinton to all raise taxes as part of fiscally responsible budget plans.

That all changed in recent years, when the GOP decided tax increases are a plague on society, no matter the circumstances.

And while I don’t question Thompson’s source, I do wonder whether all the congressional Republicans are in on the plan. In other words, the intra-party message for Republicans seems to be this: “OK, in public, let’s say any tax increases are off the table, but in private, let’s realize we may have to give a little on this point.”

But exactly how much of the GOP is, to borrow the source’s phrase, living in “the real world”?

I guess we’ll see soon enough, but if public rhetoric is to be taken seriously — and admittedly, maybe it shouldn’t — Republican leaders and rank-and-file members seem extremely inflexible on this point. Indeed, it looks as if they’ve already boxed themselves in, refusing to consider any compromise that does the right thing by closing the budget gap with additional revenue.

It’s heartening, I suppose, that at least some of this is posturing and partisan bravado, but which “world” are most Republican lawmakers living in?