You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

Why Do Conservatives Hate The Deficit Commission?

Last week, in the course of lauding Kevin Williamson's National Review article that shockingly attacked the supply-side theology, I mentioned that the conservative movement's quasi-religious fidelity to tax cuts made it unable to advance even its own ideological self-interest.

The upcoming fiscal summit is a good example. The basic shape of the deal is that, in order to bring revenues into line with spending, Democrats will accept some spending cuts and Republicans will accept some tax hikes. By reducing spending, this will decrease the size of government. I can see why liberals would object -- they're being asked to sacrifice the liberal goal of a more expansive government in order to achieve the non-ideological goal of preventing a fiscal meltdown. Conservatives ought to be ecstatic -- they could achieve both an ideological goal (reducing the size of government by reducing spending) and a non-ideological goal (preventing the fiscal meltdown.) Tax hikes are not really a concession, since deficit spending that would occur without such a deal merely represents deferred taxation.

The conservative reaction has been to refuse to engage the premise altogether. Here's National Review's editorial:

[T]he president would like to enlist Republican cooperation to pass a massive, bipartisan tax increase to help pay for it and his other spending ideas. The specific tax hikes are not yet known, as they would be proposed by an independent commission of “wise men” handpicked mainly by Democrats to ensure a pre-determined outcome — one they hope is not covered in Democratic fingerprints. For added electoral protection, the commission’s tax-increase recommendations wouldn’t be unveiled and voted on by Congress until after the November elections, all the better to keep the nuisance of public opinion from interfering with the grand Democratic plan to pursue another Great Society.

And they wonder why Republicans are not interested in facilitating this grand plan’s implementation.

And here's the Wall Street Journal:

New taxes will only reduce the pressure to cut future spending. ...
The Democrats will use a tax-and-spend commission to confront Republicans with the false choice between huge tax increases or fiscal disaster. Republicans should respond with their own choice: They'll agree to a deficit commission only if it takes tax increases off the table and forces all of Washington to confront the hard spending trade-offs between guns and butter, old and young, the poor and middle class, and social welfare and corporate welfare. Otherwise, Democrats should be forced to defend and finance their own destructive fiscal choices.

That's the conservative line: not a penny of higher taxes, even in return for billions in lower spending. Again, this ignores the basic definitional truth that spending levels, not tax levels, define the size of government. Money that has been spent has been taxed. Holding out against tax hike is only to delay taxation, not to avert it. It's insane that conservative view a cut spending and raise taxes deal as a compromise at all, let alone an unacceptable one. Oh, sure, Republicans would love to reduce the deficit entirely through spending cuts. But they have no remotely plausible path to achieving this goal. The only times Republicans have ever actually cut entitlement spending have occurred when Democrats gave them cover to do so, and Democrats will only do so as part of a deal that includes tax hikes and some measure of shared sacrifice.

Conservatives who oppose a deficit deal because they want an all-spending cut deficit reduction plan are exactly like the liberals who opposed the Affordable Care Act because they were holding out for single-payer. The main difference is that the latter had zero votes in Congress, while the former comprises the overwhelming majority of the Republican caucus.

I wish the Republican Party had a preference for a government more in line with mine. But I'd settle for a GOP with a radically different vision that is merely capable of grasping reality well enough to negotiate before the federal budget goes into crisis.