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Froma Harrop
Froma Harrop
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The Party of Fiscal Babies


Nearly every Republican these days calls for tax cuts and lower deficits, and in the same sentence. Point out that these goals clash — that taxes pay for government and not paying for government causes deficits, and the Republican counters, "We must shrink government, instead."

Sure. And you're just the boys to do it.

There hasn't been a balanced budget since the last Democratic administration. During the George W. Bush years of mindless tax-cutting, the national debt doubled, and GOP claims to fiscal rectitude became a bizarre joke. The last fig leaf fell off this summer when Republicans demagogued efforts to save over $100 billion by ending subsidies for the private Medicare Advantage health plans.

Here was the lowest-hanging fruit in the fastest-growing government program. It was something most Medicare beneficiaries would barely notice was gone, yet Republicans hollered that Democrats were pulling the plug on grandma.

That dashed any residual Republican pretenses that Bush had led them astray on spending, and a lesson was learned. Clearly, they're not changing a thing.

Bruce Bartlett, an economist in Ronald Reagan's Treasury Department, has criticizing such inconsistencies for several years. Republicans could have embraced his 2006 book, "Imposter: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy," as evidence that they truly regretted the fiscal wreckage of the Bush years. Instead, they turned Bartlett into a Republican pariah.

Bartlett has just come out with another book, "The New American Economy: The Failure of Reaganomics and a New Way Forward." It has received an equally chilly reception from the right-wing media and associated think tanks. That is, they're making no mention of it.

I asked Bartlett whether he feels beaten up by former fellow Republicans. (He's now an independent.) No, he said, "One of the funny things since 'Imposter' came out is the refusal of people on the right to even debate me."

One can't entirely blame them for trying to smother his book sales.

Democrats would be hard-pressed to find better talking points anywhere else — though Bartlett does find fault with them, too.

Bartlett's main point is that there's almost no place to cut domestic discretionary spending. Subtract money going for defense, entitlements (such as Medicare) and payments on the debt, and there's precious little left. Domestic discretionary spending in fiscal 2008 last year totaled $485 billion, while the deficit was $459 billion. You would have had to kill nearly every domestic program to balance the budget. That would have meant nothing for education, agriculture, housing, border patrols, the FBI, highways.

Taxes must go up, and on that subject, Bartlett takes issue with the current president. "You have to look at some other broad-based revenue raising," he said, "but then you run up against the problem that Obama has made the promise not to raise taxes on anyone earning less than $200,000." He deems that approach "irresponsible." The rich can't bear all the costs of government.

The answer is a value-added tax, which is basically a national sales tax. The VAT would tax consumption, rather than income, and at low cost to economic growth. Europeans use a VAT to pay for their cushy benefits.

Bartlett thinks that Congress should commit itself to a number, say $1 trillion, for deficit savings over 10 years. Then it should ask a commission to find a third of that money from higher revenues, a third from entitlement cuts and a third from discretionary spending.

Welcome to the world of grownups, where tax cuts don't magically pay for themselves — and where middle-class people must pay more for middle-class benefits. When it comes to addressing deficits, Democrats may be lax adolescents, but Republicans are total babies.

To find out more about Froma Harrop, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at




4 Comments | Post Comment
Unless a VAT is applied to inessentials, it's unfair to lower income people, because they are taxed at a higher percentage of their income than are the wealthy. I've read proposals for various taxes on trading and short-term speculation. Might this avoid the unfairness of a VAT and also claw back some money from the banking sector? Not to say it has to be all one thing or the other, but sales taxes seem to be the wrong direction, especially if applied to basics.
Comment: #1
Posted by:
Tue Nov 17, 2009 1:57 AM
Let's bring some basic logic to the discussion. The problems with the Bush economy were not "mindless tax cuts." The problem began with expansion of government. The economy was at its best during the Reagan administration. You'll notice it only got worse with bailouts, a trend that started with Bush. I am not a Bush supporter, but the economy and job loss situation has gotten way worse with Obama. You wanna talk about babies? Babies are these whiney democrats who, when they don't have a relative argument, revert back to blaming Bush. Bush is no longer in office, and it is time to take responsibility.

The economics portion is very simple. Tax cuts= more money for the economy which equals more consumer spending which equals higher demand, which equals more businesses which equals more jobs, which equals more tax revenue from employees and businesses. By using Obama's methods we have more entitlement programs taking the money from the pockets of those who are actually earning it and creating a cycle of dependency that only requires more tax money until we are all broke with no incentive to earn since the government will just take it anyway. Liberals lack common sense to the point of sadness.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Brandon
Tue Nov 17, 2009 7:07 AM
The problem it seems to me is that neither the Republicans nor the Democrats are willing to accept responsibility for doing what is necessary to ensure the fiscal soundness of our country. They are quick to point fingers at each other, but they never lay out in detail what it is they would do to put our nation's fiscal house in order. Bush and the Republicans shirked this responsibility when they were in power, and now Obama and the Democrats are doing the same thing.
The best thing that could happen for the current administration (and for our country) would be for the Democratic health care initiative to go down in flames. Hopefully then, Obama, et al, would focus their attention on getting our fiscal affairs in order and in getting our economy back on track.
Comment: #3
Posted by: kenger
Thu Nov 19, 2009 7:10 AM
Anyone with a high school education or better knows a Value Added tax is the best way to kill an econmoy. Froma obiously did not take a college economics class, otherwise she would have known that of all the choices available for goverment to tax its populus, the VAT is the bottom of the barrel. Froma supports her recommendation with a reference to the Europeans VAT...another uneducated correlation to systems that a in deep trouble and economically stagnant. We are starting to see amovement away from socialist European ways to a more conservative market approach...

Last Frome says "Taxes must go up" I think that tells how us how naive, or uneducated in economics, she truly is. How about "SPENDING MUST STOP...WE HAVE NO MONEY"
Comment: #4
Posted by: John Douglas
Sun Nov 22, 2009 7:34 AM
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