The other day the Seattle Times singled out House Finance Committee chair Ross Hunter for his willingness to consider raising taxes to ward off some of the most crippling and counterproductive impending budget cuts:
This is a failure of leadership. Hunter, in particular, disappoints us because he was supposed to be a moderate.
That’s right, because in the Times’ Bizarro World lexicon, true “leadership” always consists of defending the status quo, and the status quo around here is last year’s all-cuts budget. And of course a true “moderate” would never consider raising taxes, only cutting them, because moderation never involves looking at both sides of the budget equation.
The Times had no gripe with Hunter and his committee when their primary business was considering and passing innumerable tax breaks and exemptions, but the minute he considers pushing revenue in the other direction, well, that’s a failure of leadership.
I was reminded of the Times’ immoderate attack on Hunter while reading Eliot Spitzer’s latest column in Slate, in which he effectively debunks the popular conservative meme that higher taxes inevitably result in lower GDP. It’s worth a read, especially within the context of our current state budget debate in which the Times and its surrogates in the Republican caucus (or is it the other way around? It’s so easy to get confused…) reflexively argue that raising taxes will inevitably hurt our economy, while totally ignoring the economic, let alone human impact of spending cuts.
But I was particularly struck by the following passage, in which Spitzer lays out a bit of history the 21st Century reader might find rather startling:
Leaders of a century ago invoked justice in remarkable language that is unimaginable today. President Woodrow Wilson called paying taxes “a glorious privilege.” Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. observed that “taxes are what we pay for civilized society.” In 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt said, “In this time of grave national danger, when all excess income should go to win the war; no American citizen ought to have a net income, after he has paid his taxes, of more than $25,000.” That $25,000 is the equivalent of $323,208 in today’s dollars. Can you conceive of a modern president suggesting that no American should earn more than $323,000 after taxes? (President George W. Bush went to war twice without once calling for such a common sacrifice to pay for it.) And President Harry Truman in 1948 vetoed a broad-based tax cut, even in the face of an expected and eventual congressional override, and then asked for a tax increase following his upset victory.
On the subject of leadership, I hate to give Ross Hunter the pleasure of lumping him in there, no matter how momentary or tangentially, with the likes of Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., but… well… you know…
Regardless, just like there are two sides to the budget equation, there are two sides to the question of whether in an economic downturn like ours, tax increases are more damaging than spending cuts, so in the interest of an informed public debate, I really wish the Times would stop operating on the assumption that their side of the argument is a given.