David Brooks writes in today’s New York Times that Republicans have been infected with a “psychological” faction that has made them unreasonable and nearly insane. In fact, Brooks calls those Republicans who refuse to budge on tax hikes “indecent,” and can’t understand why they want to walk away from the deal of the century:
But we can have no confidence that the Republicans will seize this opportunity. That’s because the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative.
The members of this movement do not accept the logic of compromise, no matter how sweet the terms. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch in order to cut government by a foot, they will say no. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch to cut government by a yard, they will still say no.
The members of this movement do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities. A thousand impartial experts may tell them that a default on the debt would have calamitous effects, far worse than raising tax revenues a bit. But the members of this movement refuse to believe it.
The members of this movement have no sense of moral decency. A nation makes a sacred pledge to pay the money back when it borrows money. But the members of this movement talk blandly of default and are willing to stain their nation’s honor.
Well, let’s back the train up the tracks just a little bit here. The incoming Republicans who now resist tax hikes weren’t the ones spending the money in the first place. The Democrats in Congress ran deficit spending to absurd new heights over the last four years, and some of the Republicans now in Congress were around for the relatively smaller debt increase from 2001-2006. Neither group “pledged” to pay the money back, and Democrats to this day still aren’t pledging to do so. Tim Geithner just got done explaining that all the current administration wants to do is reduce the amount of borrowing incrementally without having any plan to eliminate deficit spending ever.
If we are net borrowing every year, adding to debt, then we will never be in position to fulfill a “sacred pledge to pay the money back.” That’s a rather large flaw in fiscal policy and in Brooks’ logic, which may be one reason why some of these Republicans don’t pay much attention to “intellectual authorities” like, er, David Brooks.
We can only fulfill that “sacred pledge” after we stop deficit spending. Republicans, led by Paul Ryan, have a plan to do just that, at least at some point in the future, while Democrats want to keep right on creating deficits and hiking the national debt. The Ryan plan does not rely on tax hikes and still manages to balance the budget in the future (although quite a few years into the future). His plan does that by reforming the parts of the budget that have created most of the deficit pressure: entitlements and their tens of trillions in unfunded liabilities. What, pray tell, is “decent” about continuing to make promises that cannot possibly be honored in Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security? Brooks doesn’t seem to have an answer for that, either.
Republicans are resisting tax increases because Democrats aren’t serious about solving the problem. Tax increases would only allow them to paper over the acute crisis while allowing the chronic disintegration of American fiscal standing, and that’s assuming that Democratic static tax analysis actually pans out by delivering the promised revenue from their increases. The American people have seen this act before, where Democrats demand tax increases in exchange for structural changes in spending policy. George H. W. Bush played the role of Charlie Brown to Congress’ Lucy in 1990, for which Democrats pilloried him as a liar with their “Read my lips” attack ads in 1992.
This time, Republicans want the structural changes first, and then we’ll see whether tax rates need to be adjusted — or better yet, the tax system that allows Congress to pick winners and losers dumped entirely for a flat tax, or consumption tax as its replacement. That would be the “decent” approach, and one that actually solves the problem rather than allow Congress to continue denying its scope.
Update: Guy Benson says Brooks should join him on vacation. Go read The Mother of All Fiskings, but this is worth highlighting:
Might I briefly interrupt Brooks’ festival of anti-Republican name-calling (say what you will about the man, he’s mastered the skill of bestowing leg thrills upon Times readers) to point out a small fact? This “mother of all no-brainers” deal that Brooks accuses the GOP of turning down doesn’t exist. There is no deal on the table. Period. Why on earth should Republicans agree in principle to a theoretical deal before seeing and carefully considering the fine print? Based on their opposition’s track record, they shouldn’t, and they aren’t. Good. …
With all due respect, it is demonstrably false to claim that Republicans “do not accept the logic of compromise.” Did Mr. Brooks sleep through the aforementioned tax deal in December? Did April’sContinuing Resolution accord slip his mind as he penned this column? In each of these high-profile cases, Republicans helped craft and pass profoundly imperfect compromises, angering many in their base, in order to keep the government running and avert all-out partisan warfare. Some of us defended both actions as frustrating, but necessary, nods to divided government. Frankly, David Brooks should still be orgasmic over these triumphs of bipartisan moderation. Instead, he’s deliberately ignoring them to bludgeon Republicans into prematurely supporting a non-existent deal because…well, just because.
The Republican-controlled House did in a few weeks what the Democratic-controlled Congress couldn’t do in a full year — pass a budget for FY2011. That’s a data point that Brooks overlooked.