“Tax Cuts Lose Spot on GOP Agenda,” read a headline at the top of Monday’s front page in the Washington Post. Such headlines should inflame rank-and-file Republicans. They worked hard to give the GOP power, now once it possesses power the GOP does little to nothing with it. The pattern is tiresomely familiar: first, wobbly Republicans beg for votes on the promise that they can beat the Democrats and implement sounder principles than them, then these Republicans abandon those principles the moment they win on the grounds that they need to win again. This cowardly logic means that the principles will never take root as each new election supplies the GOP with a fresh rationale for delaying its agenda.
Not all Republicans but a distressingly high number of them are colluding with the Democrats in a kind of slow-motion socialism. For example, in the Senate this week Ted Kennedy called for a $2 hike in the minimum wage. What do the Rick Santorums do in response? Instead of showing a little guts and saying that minimum wage bills are demagogic, mindless job-killers, they just split the difference with the Democrats on the wage increase (and, yes, maybe throw in a few “pro-business” provisions of largely rhetorical value).
Then there is Social Security reform, a subject on which GOP defeatism grows more outrageous by the day as Republicans blubber about the need to win re-election. The GOP’s idea of negotiation is to capitulate long before it has reached the table. If Republicans had any will, they could find a way to pass Social Security Reform. But instead they behave timorously. They are still acting as if they lost the election to the Democrats. Easily rattled, they continue to assume that the Democrats and media speak powerfully for the American people. So at the sound of the word “radical” a Pavlovian GOP skittishness kicks in, when the truth is that Bush’s proposal isn’t even remotely radical and can be presented to the American people quite easily.
A lack of GOP imagination compounds its lack of will. Hasn’t it occurred to the Republicans that the American people no longer take the hack alarmists of the Democratic Party seriously? That’s why the Charlie Rangels are out of power. The American people have had enough experience with these Democrats to know that they parasitically prefer the continuation of crises to solving them.
A paucity of imagination is also at work in the GOP’s abandonment of tax cuts. The upshot of the previously mentioned Post piece was that the GOP won’t cut taxes at a time of rising deficits. In other words, Republicans have swallowed the lie that tax cuts are a source of deficits. Didn’t rudimentary Reaganomics teach them that tax cuts are not a source of deficits but a solution to them — a spur to reducing the federal government’s size and a stimulus to the economy that makes Americans less dependent on the federal government? Tax cuts at once boost the economy (and can actually increase government tax revenues) while sending a signal to Washington that it must back away from the trough. Cut taxes and fiscal discipline may follow; suspend tax cuts and continued bloated government spending is guaranteed. Unless tax money is taken away from Washington it will waste it. The Congress has become the federalism-denying fiscal equivalent of the Supreme Court, taxing the people for programs it has no prerogatives to run.
The GOP treats deficits as an occasion for stalling tax relief even though deficits provide Republicans with an obvious opportunity to reduce the size of a morbidly obese federal government and renew calls for the devolution of federal power to the people and their state and local governments. Deficits also provide the GOP with an obvious opportunity to expose the Democrats’ fretting over deficits as bogus. Every time the Democrats could be put in the position of obstructing the elimination of a frivolous program would demonstrate that their interest in deficit reduction is fake.
Republican South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham has managed to meld the GOP’s two betrayals on tax cuts and Social Security reform into one position: he is calling for tax hikes to “restructure” Social Security. This would be a staggeringly rude imposition on the American people, forcing them to pay for the mistakes of politicians who spent previously taxed money on pork and other nonsense while compelling Americans to pay for a tottering pension system that these prodigal pols couldn’t be bothered to keep solvent and those American taxpayers may never see. With Republicans like these, who needs Democrats?