The mainstream media is having a field day with House Minority Leader John Boehner’s (R–OH) less-than-stellar handling of a simple “when did you stop beating your wife” question posed by NBC’s David Gregory on Sunday’s Meet the Press.
Gregory repeatedly badgered Boehner about how he could square the Republicans’ newfound concern over the budget deficit with an unwillingness to pay for “tax cuts,” at one point asking, “How can you be for cutting the deficit and also cutting taxes, as well, when they’re not paid for?”
Boehner responded, “You can’t raise taxes in the middle of a weak economy.” He’s right, of course. Obama and friends want to raise taxes. But Gregory and his media buddies keep referring to tax cuts, not tax hikes, perpetuating a politically convenient confusion.
After his observation about tax hikes on a sliding economy, Boehner should have continued with the equivalent of “Gee, David, I’m not even married.” He should have said:
Tax cuts? What tax cuts? I’m not proposing tax cuts. The President’s not proposing tax cuts. You’re not proposing tax cuts. We’re talking here about whether we should hit the economy with a massive tax increase. It’s nuts to suggest you need to pay for the defeat of a tax hike by raising taxes. That’s a cynical heads-I-win-tails-you-lose game some people play in Washington. You may try to play that game, but I’m not going to.
Unfortunately, the issue of the moment is not whether taxes should be cut. Having ballooned the deficit with unconscionable spending hikes, the nation’s tax cut options are few and small. The issue is whether Obama and friends can force through a huge tax increase by allowing taxes to return to pre-2001 form. Gregory, of course, knows this full well, and he knows how the Congressional Budget Office’s persistently perverse scoring conventions add to the confusion by insisting one has to raise taxes to avoid raising taxes. Or, as they express it in Washington, you have to “pay for” not raising taxes. This is absurd.
Another major inconsistency this debate highlights is that liberals and their media allies argue that avoiding the higher tax rates must be paid for, but avoiding the middle class tax hikes need not be paid for. There is no basis for this distinction. If the liberals are going to argue extending current policy means cutting taxes, then that argument must apply to all of current policy—the higher child tax credits, the marriage penalty relief, the higher rates on income and capital gains and dividends, etc. But this, too, would be a massive and thoroughly indefensible tax hike.
To his credit, Obama’s budget doesn’t play the Gregory/CBO scoring game. The President’s budget shows that raising tax rates is a revenue-raising tax increase, while extending current policy keeps revenues on their current trajectory. This is an honest approach the media would do well to follow.