The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations

Between his defense of the scientific consensus and his willingness to denounce the GOP’s brinksmanship on the debt ceiling, it seemed safe to describe former Utah governor and ambassador to China Jon Huntsman as a conservative representative of the reality-based community.

If Huntsman’s jobs plan is any indication, that assessment was off-base.

Here are the basics of Huntsman’s plan for lowering unemployment:

  • Streamline the tax code with three bracket at 8 percent, 14 percent and 23 percent
  • Eliminate taxes on capital gains and dividends
  • Eliminate the alternative minimum tax, which was created to keep the rich from avoiding taxes, but increasingly falls on the middle-class
  • Reducing the corporate tax rate to 25 percent

In addition, Huntsman wants to close tax loopholes and subsidies, which would make the changes revenue neutral under the current budget regime.

None of this is particularly good. A streamlined tax code with fewer loopholes sounds good, but given the distribution of political power in the United States, it’s more likely that a tax reform program would cut benefits for poor and working-class families – like the Earned Income Tax Credit – than it would reduce the tax expenditures that benefit well-off Americans. Likewise, absent the complete elimination of tax breaks, an end to the alternative minimum tax would lower the tax burden on wealthy individuals.

Beyond this, however, the chief problem with Huntsman’s proposal is that it leaves the Bush tax cuts intact, and any tax plan that doesn’t raise revenue is one that requires massive cuts to federal spending in order to prevent a debt explosion. To give an idea of what this would mean, the Republican Study Commission budget assumes extention of the Bush tax cuts through the next decade, and in order to keep debt from reaching 100 percent of GDP, it also slashes non-defense discretionary spending by 70 percent by 2021, and introduces hugely regressive “reforms” – like raising the retirement age – to Social Security and Medicare.

In other words, Jon Huntsman has a tax plan that puts him in line with Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, and other Republicans who seek to slash federal spending to the bone. It’s nice that Huntsman supports scientists and doesn’t want the country to default, but with this proposal, I’d be hard-pressed to call him a “moderate.”

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