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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press Michael Gerson Is Unhappy that Republicans Were Forced to Give Up Core Commitment Against Taxes but Dems Didn't Give Up Core Commitment to Social Security (yet)

Michael Gerson Is Unhappy that Republicans Were Forced to Give Up Core Commitment Against Taxes but Dems Didn't Give Up Core Commitment to Social Security (yet)

Tuesday, 15 January 2013 08:56

The polite position in Washington policy circles is that politics has yielded to extremes in both parties. That is a really nice children's tale, but it is more than a bit absurd for anyone interested in reality. While the Republicans have adopted many extreme positions, Richard Nixon and Dwight Eisenhower would be very comfortable with the center position in the modern Democratic Party.

Michael Gerson helped to clarify the fundamental asymmetry between the two parties' positions in his column today. He complained that President Obama forced Congressional Republicans to vote for a tax increase for the first time in more than twenty years, violating their fundamental opposition to tax increases. (As a technical matter, the votes took place after taxes had already risen on January 1, so they were effectively voting for tax cuts for most households.) However, he complains that there was no quid pro quo with Democrats forced to support cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

This complaint shows well the nature of the asymmetry. While most Democrats are willing to support tax increases, especially on the wealthy, most Republicans consistently tell pollsters that they are opposed to cuts in Social Security and Medicare. In fact, there is not very much difference between Democratic and Republican attitudes towards these programs. The bases of both parties support them overwhelmingly.

Gerson is unhappy that President Obama refused to take a position that was not only unpopular with the Democratic base but also unpopular with the Republican base. This shows well the extremism of the Republican leadership in Washington.

It is also important to note that as a matter of arithmetic, support for Social Security and Medicare virtually necessitates higher taxes at some point, especially if health care costs are not brought under control. With a rising share of the population over age 65, these programs already cost considerably more now than they did forty years ago, measured as a share of GDP. They will cost still more in another twenty years.

Unless we are willing to see a substantial shrinkage in the rest of the government, it is impossible to support the increased spending on these programs without ever raising taxes. This makes the difference between Democrats and Republicans on this point primarily the fact that Democrats are willing to accept arithmetic whereas Republicans are trying to deny it.

Comments (3)Add Comment
written by fuller schmidt, January 15, 2013 11:44
Getting rid of patronage and lobbying are the first steps to getting government spending under control; and public financing of elections are the only way to achieve it. Let me know when anyone in the GOP calls for these things let alone not actively working against them.
Gerson Omits That
written by Bart, January 15, 2013 1:06

Those tax cuts were by law made to expire.

The Republicans won big by getting the majority of the Bush tax cuts made permanent.
written by jennifer, January 15, 2013 2:07
It is hard to decide which is worse, pundits insisting that what the Republicans and Democrats are asking for are equally reasonable or that the Obama administration seems to believe this as well. Everybody but the house Republicans understand that people voted on higher taxes for the wealthy, as generally defined as incomes over 200,000 and no SS or medicare "changes" or cuts. So how did we wind up with the fiscal cliff deal which only raised taxes on incomes over 400,00 plus raising taxes on everybody below that, i.e. the expiration of the payroll tax. Plus the "tax extenders" which in essence erased any gains by the higher taxes. Where where the house Republicans then?

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.