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Saturday, August 09, 2003
The Republican Honesty Deficit

Some wise words from Matthew Miller about the budget, which you seldom see laid out like this:

TMSFeatures: Proof of the GOP's honesty deficit comes by asking a simple question: What is the Republican position on the right size of government and how to fund it?

Start with basic but poorly understood facts. Just seven programs make up about 75 percent of all federal spending: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, military pensions, civil service pensions, defense and interest on the debt. (emphasis mine)

That’s “big government.” Republicans aren’t trying to cut a dime of it. In fact, they’re calling for big increases in every one of these programs. According to the White House, interest on the national debt alone will soar by 66 percent over the next five years thanks to the red ink oozing from President Bush’s budget.

And those “big 7” programs come before you toss in everything from NASA to the national parks to the National Institutes of Health, not to mention homeland security, student loans and farm subsidies — all things Republicans support, and which take up a goodly portion of the quarter on the federal dollar that’s left.

In other words, if you pay heed to their votes and not their words, the Republican critique of “big government” is a pure charade.

Though it hardly seems possible, the GOP position on taxes is even more shocking. Understanding why requires a quick, painless look at a few numbers.

Over the next five years, President Bush figures the “big 7” programs will cost, on average, about $1.8 trillion a year.

Over the same period, he says, the revenue the government will collect, not counting Social Security taxes (which both parties say shouldn’t be used for current spending, though it is), will average about $1.35 trillion a year — or $450 billion a year less than just the “big 7” programs on which Republicans want to spend more.

The reduction in income taxes enacted under President Bush accounts for most of this gap.

Since the GOP thinks income tax rates should continually be reduced, they obviously believe we should fund government activities they support in one of two ways.

First, we can borrow huge amounts from our children (which is the GOP’s present plan). Or, we can at some point raise payroll and other retirement taxes, which means funding government through taxes that impose a greater burden on lower- and middle-income citizens. The income tax, by contrast, is progressive.

Mathematically, these are the only options available, given that Republicans, rhetoric aside, aren’t interested in cutting government spending.

This, then, is today’s spectacle: “Family values” Republicans are sticking the kids with the bill for current spending while railing fraudulently against the “big government” they support.

Then they attack Democrats for offering the radical idea that we ought to pay for the spending we all agree we want (and that’s before we even begin fighting about other things government might do — like cover the uninsured, or help poor children get better teachers).

There's more, but remember this the next time someone talks about "tax and spend Democrats" or tries to tell you that Republicans are the party of economic responsibility. That may have been true once upon a time, but it's certainly not true now.

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