A short history of the political parties since the late 1970s must include the epiphany for Republicans. They realized that if Democrats have the vehicle of federal spending, they, too, need a way to route money into our pockets. Thus, Republicans began to celebrate tax cuts, their policy of choice at almost any time, in a weak or strong economy.
Grover Norquist has risen to power on the thinking, the rare Republican refusing to sign his pledge to oppose all tax increases. And there resides a difference. Democrats do not have a pact to reject even one penny in spending reductions.
A year ago, President Obama appeared ready to strike a “grand bargain” with John Boehner, the House speaker. The deficit-reduction package would rely more heavily on spending cuts than tax increases. It fell apart over Republicans resisting higher taxes on the wealthy.
Go ahead, fault many Democrats for failing to see that entitlement programs must be curbed to sustain their presence for the long run. At the same time, even the Congressional Progressive Caucus has not engaged in anything close to Republican presidential candidates last spring saying no to a hypothetical deficit-reduction plan of $1 in tax increases for every $10 in spending cuts.
Yet there was U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, on the Commentary page last week, “Romney knows how to restore prosperity,” insisting that the president “wants higher taxes to pay for more government initiatives,” or that he seeks “an unprecedented level of federal spending.”
Actually, the president has called for devoting the revenue to reducing the budget deficit.
In his column, Portman opens by replaying the president’s now familiar words: “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” The Ohio Republican concludes that the president must think businesses “have the government to thank for their success.”
What was that “that” the president cited? Read his words in context. It wasn’t a business. He explained the obvious, the many factors that make for success, from an influential teacher to roads and bridges or government research that works as a catalyst for innovation, from the Internet to drilling via hydraulic fracturing.
Portman himself acknowledges as much, noting: “We all know that no one makes it in this world alone. There are a lot of people who help us along the way. … And yes, some help may come from the government.”
The senator then throws up a whopper, arguing “the worldview of President Obama seems to be one where we owe it all to government.” Owe it all? Anyone believe that?
In making his case, Portman contends that the president’s proposal to raise taxes on household incomes above $250,000 would bring great harm to small businesses. He argues the president “would shrink the private sector payroll in order to expand government even more.”
As it is, private sector employment has expanded for 29 straight months, adding 4.5 million jobs. The public sector has shrunk, Catherine Rampell of the New York Times noting last week that total government spending has been falling for eight quarters as a share of the overall economy. She added that in the second quarter of this year, government spending represented 19.5 percent of the gross domestic product. That’s below the average of 20.2 percent since 1947.
It is less than the 20.7 percent of the Reagan years.
Crossroads GPS, the conservative Super PAC, has a television ad that declares: “For real job growth, stop the spending and cut the debt.” Yet a range of economists views the shrinking public sector as dampening the recovery. Look at Britain, austerity triggering a return to recession.
Portman points to “a new nonpartisan study” to bolster his pitch. Know that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business and other business groups put up the money. Imagine their reaction to a “nonpartisan” study from the AFL-CIO.
Know, too, the president wants to return to the top rates of the Clinton years, as part of addressing the deficit while minimizing trouble for the struggling economy. How did small business fare in 1990s? Its job growth climbed an average 2.3 percent a year, double the 1 percent under George W. Bush and the current tax rates.
The Romney campaign recently put up an ad featuring an auto dealer who lost his dealership in the revamping of General Motors under the Obama White House. The spot skips past the likelihood the entire auto industry would have suffered devastating losses without the rescue.
More, the ad misses that the White House operated in much the manner of a Bain Capital, like a private-equity firm willing to invest resources as long as the ailing company would take certain steps. Those steps may be difficult, but they are viewed as necessary to go forward, protecting the investment of shareholders, or, in the president’s case, taxpayers.
Let’s not count the ad as another Romney reversal, a clumsy denial of his own achievements in business. Suffice it to say, the spot rings about as true as claiming that the president sees government alone as the secret to your success.
Douglas is the Beacon Journal editorial page editor. He can be reached at 330-996-3514, or emailed at email@example.com.