In defense of ‘dealing with reality’

Rep. Scott Rigell (R) of Virginia delivered some interesting remarks on the House floor on Monday night.

“…I would say to my friends who are Democrats, let’s consider this. Historically, we’ve been around 19 percent of expenses as a percent of our gross domestic product. Right now, we’re over 24.5 percent. This is putting America on a perilous course and I believe that it threatens our country in a fundamental way.

“Now, to my republican colleagues, let’s look at the other side. Historically, we’ve been around 18 percent, plus or minus, revenue as a percent of gross domestic product. And right now, we’re less than 15 percent. That, too, is a problem. Any Republican who will not admit to this or to confront it and discuss it head on, is not dealing with reality. These are the numbers. It’s not how you feel. It’s where the numbers lead us. We need to be a leadership team here, a body that respects, seeks out, and is guided by the facts.”

Rigell’s guidance to Democrats seems incomplete to me, in part because government spending as a percentage of GDP has gone up due to the economic crisis, and in part because Democratic lawmakers have spent much of the last year offering to cut spending as part of a debt-reduction deal.

But it’s the Republican congressman’s guidance to his own party that’s refreshing. Indeed, the GOP line almost always argues that taxes are at some kind of historic high, when in fact, that Americans really are paying the smallest share of their income for taxes since the 1950s and tax revenues as a percentage of the economy really are lower now than at any point in a generation.

I’m not sure what kind of resolution Rigell has in mind, but if he’s thinking there should be some kind of bipartisan compromise built around a package of spending cuts and new tax revenue, he’s likely to face Republican excommunication.

Still, credit where credit is due. I don’t imagine Rigell and I would agree on the seriousness of the debt problem or the best way to address it, but anyone encouraging congressional Republicans to “deal with reality” deserves at least some kudos.

Of course, it’s against this backdrop that Rigell’s GOP colleagues refuse to consider any tax increases on anyone ever, and in most cases, are equally opposed to any new revenues to shrink the deficit Republicans helped create in the first place. Apparently, the “deal with reality” advice has gone unheeded.