When President Obama got Republicans to raise taxes on the top one percent of income earners as part of the January deal that ended the threat of the fiscal cliff, some Democrats gloated that Republicans had been made to go back on the famous Grover Norquist pledge never to raise taxes. It appeared that Obama, fresh from his November victory and taking advantage of Republicans’ divisions, had won big.
Premiering tonight on the channel that just got through bringing us Season Two of Game of Thrones—believe me, you'll miss its brute realism—41 couldn't be a tenderer, more wart-free portrait of George H.W. Bush if one of his grandkids had put it together for a private screening on Poppy's 88th birthday. Which was, as it happens, Tuesday, and many happy returns. But that's no excuse for HBO to air nominal documentarian Jeffrey Roth's (who is he, you ask? Beats me.) feature-length Hallmark card.
You don’t have to be a genius to know the basics of running for office: Look sharp, love America, take in big money, and—most important—promise you won’t raise taxes. Thanks to Grover Norquist and his band of anti-tax crusaders, raising taxes has come to seem akin to murdering puppies and loving terrorists. Even during the worst fiscal crisis in 80 years, if you’re a state lawmaker, you must cut core government programs without ever mentioning the “T” word. And if, God forbid, you decide to raise taxes anyhow, do everything you can to distract people from the effort. Openly calling for citizens to pay more to their government is nothing short of political suicide.
Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval came into office with tough talk about taxes. Since then, it seems, he's grown disenchanted with Grover Norquist-style governance. For the second time in as many years, he's pushing to extend a group of temporary tax increases, rather than cut public-education funding. What is the world coming to?
You should read Tim Dickinson's long article in Rolling Stone about how the GOP became the party of the one percent. Essentially, the story is that while there was once a real substance to the idea of "fiscal conservatism"—that Republicans really did care about balancing the books and being good stewards of the public's tax dollars—the last 20 years have brought the Republican Party to a much different place.
Rep. Paul Ryan's plan to re-create Medicare as a voucher system has a next to zero chance of becoming law now that Senate Republicans have excluded it from their own budget proposal and GOP presidential contenders like Newt Gingrich are openly criticizing it.
Following the defeat of both the Republican and Democratic budget proposals in the Senate on Wednesday, it seemed both parties had the opportunity to go back to the drawing board and adopt a new strategy. For Democrats, this was the perfect opening to escape the narrow, Republican-enforced confines of a debate on non-defense discretionary spending and look at the bigger picture.
As Budget Committee chairman, Paul Ryan has a reputation for "seriousness," which is why he's rarely challenged for saying ridiculous things like this:
Many Democrats and even a few Republicans in the Senate say the only way to tackle the nation's financial problems is to address both taxes and spending. But don't expect Ryan's budget plan to include any new taxes.
However, in a break with many Republicans, Ryan did open the door to higher taxes in the future, but only as part of a comprehensive overhaul of the tax code, and only after the big benefit programs have been reformed.
By now it seems pretty certain that President Obama and congressional Democrats will cave to Republicans and extend all the Bush tax cuts, even for billionaires. After all, as David Axelrod recently said, "We have to take the world as we find it." Compare that to the Bush aide who told Ron Suskind, "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors ... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."
As you probably know, California suffers under an absurdly dysfunctional political system, particularly when it comes to the budget. Because of the diabolical Proposition 13 passed in 1978, raising taxes requires a two-thirds supermajority of both houses of the legislature. A two-thirds supermajority is also required to pass every budget. And of course, no one wants their services cut, which means the state is perpetually beset by deficits and budget crises.
In terms of critical conservative iconography, few standards are more important than Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform pledge: Republicans -- and some Democrats -- have signed his anti-tax oath for decades now as a rite of electoral passage. Nearly 70 percent of federally elected Republicans have made the pledge.