Orrin Hatch's Tea Party Education

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Feb. 25 2011 10:24 AM

Orrin Hatch's Tea Party Education

Bruce Bartlett has a smart column about Sen. Orrin Hatch's political problems and what they mean for the country. Oh, sure, there's been a surplus of writing about the Tea Party challenge to Hatch. Bartlett zeroes in on how Hatch balances pandering with his role as the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee.

In his speech, Hatch was very careful to take the Tea Party line that the budget deficit has nothing whatsoever to do with tax cuts; it is 100 percent a problem of too much spending. No mention was made of the fact that federal revenues will take just 14.4 percent of the gross domestic product this year; the lowest percentage since 1950 and far below the postwar average of 18.5 percent. But in the Tea Party world, it is impossible for tax cuts to cause the deficit or for higher revenues to ever reduce the deficit. As Hatch explained, "We cannot get out of this hole by taking more of taxpayers’ hard-earned money."

To emphasize that spending is the one and only fiscal problem the nation faces, Hatch said that concern for the deficit "is code for raising taxes." That is because, mathematically, a deficit can be caused either by higher spending or lower revenues. But he wants everyone in the Tea Party to understand that under no circumstances will he countenance any tax increase, no matter how big the deficit is. Echoing a crackpot theory called " starve the beast ", Hatch insisted that tax increases never reduce deficits and only feed the beast. As he said, "If we raised taxes to eliminate the deficit, the current levels of spending would just cause a new deficit to arise."

Hatch did not address the fact that following the 1993 tax increase, which he and every other Republican in Congress opposed, federal spending fell from 21.4 percent of GDP to 18.3 percent in 2000. And, contrary to starve-the-beast theory, when Republicans slashed taxes during the George W. Bush administration, it did not put any downward pressure whatsoever on spending, which rose to 20.7 percent of GDP in Bush’s last year.

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Read the whole thing. This kind of conservative orthodoxy was being enforced before the Tea Party -- the Club for Growth has made it very, very difficult for Republicans to even talk about whether endless tax cuts have downsides.

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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