The education of Steve Chabot

ThinkProgress flags an interesting exchange from a congressional town-hall meeting in Ohio this week, when a Republican congressman was pressed on whether he’d accept a debt-reduction with $10 in cuts for every $1 in revenue — a compromise every GOP presidential candidate said isn’t good enough.

During a town hall meeting earlier this week, an Ohio constituent posed the same hypothetical to Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH). Chabot was initially hesitant to answer because “we’re never going to get that deal,” but then went on to express his opposition to raising revenues at all, saying, “I’m not for raising taxes.” When a constituent correctly noted that taxes are at their lowest level in more than 50 years, Chabot was skeptical, declaring, “I don’t really buy that that’s the case.”

Right. The constituent tries to explain that taxes are at a 50-year low, and Steve Chabot replied, “I’ve heard that quote thrown around and I don’t really buy that that’s the case, that they’re the lowest. I know there’s some groups that have said there are. I’m not really convinced that’s the case. There may be some people that have it, but I don’t think that’s the case.”

You know what? Fine. Members of Congress can’t be expected to know everything off the top of their heads. This seems like a fairly important detail given all of the votes Chabot and his colleagues have been asked to take in recent months, but if the Republican congressman doesn’t know this detail from memory, I’ll gladly cut him some slack.

Of course, by saying he’s “not convinced,” Chabot is suggesting he’s open to reviewing the evidence. I certainly hope that’s true. In fact, let’s give the Ohio Republican the benefit of the doubt and conclude that Chabot actually cares about reality — he could have easily told that constituent, “I don’t care about the facts; I care about protecting millionaires from Clinton-era tax rates.” But he didn’t say that; Chabot kept saying he’s merely skeptical.

With that in mind, let’s educate Steve Chabot: taxes really are at a 50-year low.

Amid complaints about high taxes and calls for a smaller government, Americans paid their lowest level of taxes last year since Harry Truman’s presidency, a USA TODAY analysis of federal data found.

Some conservative political movements such as the “Tea Party” have criticized federal spending as being out of control. While spending is up, taxes have fallen to exceptionally low levels.

Federal, state and local income taxes consumed 9.2% of all personal income in 2009, the lowest rate since 1950, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reports. That rate is far below the historic average of 12% for the last half-century. The overall tax burden hit bottom in December at 8.8.% of income before rising slightly in the first three months of 2010.

“The idea that taxes are high right now is pretty much nuts,” says Michael Ettlinger, head of economic policy at the liberal Center for American Progress.

And as it turns out, low taxes not only lead to larger deficits; they also lead to less revenue. Jared Bernstein posted this chart recently, and GOP lawmakers like Chabot should probably take a look at it.

Republicans assume, and expect everyone else to assume, that the government is bringing in plenty of money to meet its needs. It’s important to understand, the, how very wrong Republicans are about this. Federal revenues have dropped to 15% — a 50-year low. To bring the federal budget closer to balance, we’d expect to see this number around 19%.

Those are the facts. So, Steve Chabot, what do you have to say now?