Bob Franken

Last Week’s Hearst Column

Writers note: Per the arrangement wioth my syndicators, these columns are posted here a week after their newspaper release)

^THE AUDACITY OF TAXES@< ^(For use by New York Times News Service clients)@< ^By BOB FRANKEN@= ^C.2010 Hearst Newspapers@= WASHINGINGTON _November 3, 2010 The election showed how quickly voters turn from ``change you can believe in'' to apparent non-believers, when their faith is overwhelmed by impatience. This is a country that demands results. Quickly. So it was a rueful President Obama who admitted at his post-election news conference Wednesday that ``we're stuck in neutral.'' And stagnation is simply unacceptable. Worst of all, we have been conditioned to expect all gain and no pain. As David Stockman, President Ronald Reagan's budget director, tells the ``60 Minutes'' CBS-TV program, ``We've had a 30-year spree of really phony prosperity...'' financed by ``both parties essentially telling a big lie'' that the country could live the good life without paying for it. Stockman should know. He was the whiz kid in the Reagan White House who helped contrive the budget rationale that led to 1981's largest tax cut in U.S. history. It's the same siren song that Republicans have used to seduce voters ever since. It's a mirage called ``supply side economics,'' a have-your-cake-and-eat-it too bit of puffery. The premise is that tax cuts lead to more private sector spending, which increases profits and employment, which brings in more government revenue and cuts budget deficits. It didn't take long for Stockman to realize this was a charade, particularly since much of the uncollected revenue ended up in bank account of millionaires who hoarded it instead of spending it. When he said so, he became a GOP outcast. Stockman is still hammering away at the politicians who refuse to dispense the bitter pill and acknowledge to the American people that for the foreseeable future, ``We're going to be living in a period of austerity.''

Stockman argues that the only way the U.S. can claw out of its black hole of debt is a tax increase for everyone…not just the rich, but everyone. He heaped scorn on those who seem to contend that “we don’t have to tax ourselves and pay our bills. That is delusional.”

He’s certainly running uphill with that thought. After all, we just had this election where the dominant forces were the Tea Party groups. That name has always been fascinating, because the original ones were railing against “Taxation without Representation.” The modern ones would probably prefer no taxation even with representation.

Contrast that to Obama’s plan to demand of the lame duck Congress gathering on Nov. 15 that tax cuts for the wealthy should end, while everyone else will continue continues with the lower rates of the Bush cuts (different Republican president, same disastrous policy).

True to their religion, Republicans will insist on extending the reductions for everyone, no matter how rich they may be. It looks like the president is ready to back down and play “Let’s Make a Deal” since he told reporters Wednesday that his goal was simply “…to make sure we don’t have a spike in taxes for middle class families.” No mention of higher taxes on upper-income families.

That tracked with Washington State where voters on Tuesday rejected an initiative that would have imposed a new income tax on the wealthy.

Meanwhile, mark your calendars for Dec. 1. That’s the deadline for the national deficit commission to release its report on how to deal with a national debt that commission chairman Erskine Bowles describes as “…like a cancer.”

Stockman argues that there are not enough ways to cut government spending to make an appreciable difference in the national debt.

So if, somehow, the 18 commission members, with their wide variety of political outlooks, can even agree on raising taxes, Congress and the White House will likely ignore such recommendations. They will very skittish about the new arrivals who consider any such idea sacrilege.

What we have then is an audacity to hope for change.


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