Skip to main content
ABC News
If Republicans Were Serious About Deficits…

Over at Esquire, I contemplate the uncontemplatable. What if the Republicans ran on a platform of, if not actually raising taxes, at least curbing their resistance to them, thereby hoping to claim the moral highground on the issue of deficits? Granted, it will never happen — especially when Republicans might be able to get Barack Obama to raise taxes for them. But the historical precedents are not as bad as you might think:

Although raising taxes — or at least not trying to cut them — has been anathema to Republicans since the Reagan era, it hasn’t always been so. Richard Nixon and Dwight Eisenhower both largely resisted calls to cut taxes (Eisenhower slashed the top tax bracket all the way from 92 percent to 91), choosing to focus on deficit reduction instead. Both were elected to second terms.

In Britain, meanwhile, David Cameron, the Tory leader, recently told fellow Conservatives that tax cuts would have to take a backseat to deficit reduction, even pledging to stop high-income earners from receiving some tax credits. Perhaps partly in response, Cameron’s Conservatives increased their margin by six seats over the Labor party in the recent European Parliament elections, and betting markets consider them 4 to 1 favorites to take over the British Parliament in the next elections.

A successful Republican message might mirror Cameron’s: not wholesale tax increases, but selective and perhaps temporary ones for the wealthiest Americans — lifting the cap on Social Security taxes, say, for Americans making $250,000 or more, until such time as Social Security is projected to be revenue-neutral.

Like I said: It. Will. Never. Happen. And right now, the Republicans are looking pretty good for 2010 (a bit better, frankly, than when I wrote this piece — we’re dealing with longish lead times in print). The deficit is quite an albatross that Obama is wearing around his neck.

At the same time, pieces like this one — The Washington Examiner‘s Byron York gleefully anticipating that Obama will have to raise taxes on the middle class — seem a bit myopic. Obama certainly won’t have to raise middle-class taxes. He’ll only do so if he’s concluded that doing so would be a lesser political burden than letting the deficit grow. But if the public is at a point where they see tax hikes as preferable to ballooning deficits, then Obama will have plenty of room to insist on “bipartisanship” — that some prominent Republicans must get on board before he enables Congress to vote on a tax increase. The public is not going to forget that Obama inherited much of the national debt from Bush, and rhetoric about shared responsibility is liable to be fairly effective. Anyway, go read the rest of the article.

Nate Silver founded and was the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.