It’s the great mystery of the debt ceiling debate: Why is President Barack Obama so darn adamant about raising taxes? “This may bring my presidency down, but I will not yield on this,” Obama told Republicans before dramatically exiting their budget meeting last week.
“This,” of course, is his demand that large spending cuts be “balanced” with tax increases on wealthier Americans, entrepreneurs, investors and unpopular businesses such as Big Oil and Wall Street. But why insist on higher taxes in the middle of weakest economic recovery in the post-World War II era?
Wouldn’t standard Keynesian economics, much beloved in the White House, actually call for cutting taxes (or increasing spending) to boost aggregate demand?
Doesn’t Obama know that even his former chief economist, Christina Romer, says tax increases “will tend to slow the recovery in the near term.” Not that things look much better a few years out. The International Monetary Funds sees economic growth below 3 percent through 2016. And Democrat-friendly Goldman Sachs now thinks a double-dip recession is possible even as it lowers its growth forecast and raises its prediction for unemployment.
But Obama’s tax obsession becomes understandable when you realize the long game he’s playing: Big Taxes to fund Big Government. Decade after decade. See, it’s an almost universal belief among left-of-center journalists, economists, policymakers and politicians that Americans must pay higher taxes in coming years to cover the medical expenses of its aging population – not to mention all sorts of brand new social spending and green “investment.” Dramatically higher taxes. On everybody. And if we have a debt crisis, maybe those tax increases come sooner rather than later.
And it’s not even a secret, really. Here’s liberal economics columnist Ezra Klein of The Washington Post:
The reality is that we’re going to have higher taxes in the coming years, and beyond that, we’re going to have higher taxes than we’ve traditionally had during periods in which taxes were relatively high.
And liberal economics columnist David Leonhardt of The New York Times outlines a completely implausible scenario — at least to himself — to avoid massively higher taxes:
For taxes to remain where they are, Washington would need to end Medicare as we know it, end Social Security as we know it, severely shrink the military – or do some combination of the above.
How high? Three liberal think tanks recently devised budgets to put the U.S. government on a sustainable fiscal path through 2035. Their plans, collectively, called for Washington to collect an average of 23.6 percent of GDP vs. the post-World War II average of 18.5 percent. To put that in further perspective, the highest level of tax revenue that Uncle Sam has ever taken is 20.9 percent in 1944.
And to reach such a stratospheric level of taxation, these groups are calling for unprecedented tax hikes via millionaire surtaxes, higher taxes on alcohol and tobacco, securities transaction taxes, higher taxes on capital gains, higher taxes on corporations, higher death taxes, carbon taxes, and gasoline taxes. None of which, supposedly, would hurt economic growth. Even worse, all those tax hikes would still fail to balance the budget. And when you move past 2035, taxes would almost certainly need to go even higher.
That is the high-tax future the liberal establishment has in store for America. No wonder Obama rejected his own debt commission last December. It would limit the tax and spending burden to 21 percent of GDP. Neither is nearly enough for the Obamacrats and their successors. Just look at Obama’s budget from last February. Over a decade, it never reduces spending to less than 23 percent of GDP and spending is actually higher at the end of the ten-year span than in the middle. And eventually all that spending would need to be paid for via higher taxes. Recall that back in 2009, the White House floated a trial balloon about a instituting a value-added tax to pay for healthcare reform or general debt reduction.
Underlying all this longing for higher taxes is a belief government can’t and shouldn’t be cut. Nonsense. Both the American Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation have devised workable fiscal plans that would keep taxes below 20 percent of GDP. And Rep. Paul Ryan’s Path to Prosperity shows how to reduce spending to below 19 percent of GDP by 2040. And rather than managed decline toward a slow-growth, EU-style social welfare state (that even the EU can’t afford anymore,) these plans would help keep America growing and living standards rising as they have for decades. Those are high stakes in the debt ceiling debate — and in the battles over taxes and spending in the years to come.