"It's Not a Revenue Problem. It's a Spending Problem."
Tracing the history of a GOP talking point.
That would do some good, as far as the deficit's concerned. Earlier this year, when the International Monetary Fund assessed ways for America to tackle its debt, its economists decided that doing so would mean "raising all taxes and cutting all transfer payments immediately and for the indefinite future by 35 percent." Allowing the pre-Bush tax rates to return would balance the budget, eventually—the budget would be balanced even faster if that was combined with entitlement reform. But the Ryan budget cuts spending and taxes, lowering the top marginal rate to 25 percent.
How does the Ryan budget handle the apparent paradox? Go to Page 17. "The U.S. government is not running sustained deficits because Americans are taxed too little," the authors write. "The government is running deficits because it spends too much." A few paragraphs later, we get the short version. "Washington has a spending problem, not a revenue problem." Say it enough, and maybe it'll become true.
On Monday, S&P revised the outlook on American bonds to "negative" because its analysts feared there'd be no serious deficit-reduction plan by 2013. Republicans jumped all over the report. "Today's announcement makes clear that the debt limit increase proposed by the Obama administration must be accompanied by meaningful fiscal reforms that immediately reduce federal spending and stop our nation from digging itself further into debt," said Cantor.
Curiously, no Republicans (and, to be fair, no Democrats) highlighted this piece of S&P advice:"Standard & Poor's takes no position on the mix of spending and revenue measures the Congress and the Administration might conclude are appropriate."
There's a simpler way of putting that: We have a spending problem and a revenue problem. And if you talk about one, and not the other, you're not taking either problem very seriously.
David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet at him @daveweigel.
Photograph of Ronald Regan by Paul Richards/AFP/Getty Images.