A few days ago Peter Wehner said that he is worried about what he calls The GOP's Philosophical Straitjacket, namely the belief that tax hikes are always bad. In particular, he highlights an incident in the most recent GOP debate:
"I'm going to ask a question to everyone here on the stage," Baier said. "Say you had a deal, a real spending cuts deal, 10-to-1, as Byron said, spending cuts to tax increases.... Who on this stage would walk away from that deal? Can you raise your hand if you feel so strongly about not raising taxes, you'd walk away on the 10-to-1 deal?"
All eight candidates raised their hand
And he comments, "Now on one level I understand this response. Republicans should not negotiate with themselves, and a willingness to reveal one's demands in advance can weaken one's position down the road," be he continues:
Are Republicans in 2011 saying that a deal that would be far better than one Reagan expected and agreed to is simply beyond the pale?
If so -- if taxes cannot be raised under any circumstance -- then we have veered from economic policy to religious catechism.
It is interesting that Wehner has moved from something "philosophical" to a "catechism" in a few paragraphs. And today, in response to Charles Murray's claim that the position is reasonable because "there is no such thing as a real spending cuts deal," Wehner notes that the question was a hypothetical one, in which there were real cuts. Fair enough.
But I would like to consider how this became a GOP catechism. It seems to me that much of the blame might go to George W. Bush. President Bush, perhaps because of his philosophical views (that federal policy ought to show "compassion"), and perhaps because the GOP had such small majorities (when they had majorities in Congress), that tax cuts were the only policy upon which there was GOP consensus, (and the small majorities made porkbarrelling more important) made tax cuts more of a fixed idea than they had been before his presidency. To be sure, when his father broke his "no new taxes" pledge, it was a big deal. Perhaps my reading of history is wrong, but the importance of not raising taxes as a fixed point seems to have taken on increasing importance in the last decade.
President Bush, who gave us the prescription drug benefit, "No Child Left Behind" (the latter written by Ted Kennedy's staff, if memory serves), and legions of porkbarrelling, (let's not forget that Porkbusters began ni 2005), not to mention, a great deal of expesive regulation, could appeal to small government types only by promoting tax cuts.
Historically speaking, the conservative Republican coalition had three legs: foreign policy, economic policy, and social policy. By giving such short shrift to the libertarian/ classical wing, Bush may have reduced the "conservative" position to tax cuts, and nothing but tax cuts.
It might be that if we can make genuine cuts in the size and scope of government, there will be more room for a discussion of whether certain tax hikes might be a worthy price to pay for such a deal. It might also be that only such a deal would justify GOP support for tax increases. The trouble is, having learned to equate tax cuts with limited government, we must relearn that a tax cuts are but one means to a larger end.