Will Republicans Cave On Taxes or Will the Tea Party Keep the GOP Honest?

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Here we go again. Just look at this headline on the front page of paper edition of The Washington Post this morning: “Prescribing bitter debt medicine, senators take case to the public.” And here comes the kicker of a sub-head: “‘Everything is on the table’ as bipartisan Gang of Six looks beyond spending cuts.”

Did you catch that last part: “beyond spending cuts”? You know what that means. The Post, which has been cheerleading for tax increases since the Coolidge administration, is telling us, in effect, that spending cuts won’t do the trick, folks--we have to take the “bitter medicine” of tax increases. Tax hikes are bitter medicine to conservatives, of course, and poisonous to tea partiers, but as we know, the Post and liberals find them tasty.

But speaking of conservatives, or at least Republicans, who are these Senators working on this possible deal? Three of the Gang of Six are Republican Senators Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, and Mike Crapo of Idaho. As Chambliss told The Post, “Everything is on the table. For a Republican to put revenues on the table is significant.”

Yes it is, since “revenues on the table” is Beltway code for “tax increase.” What does not seem to be significant to Chambliss, or to Coburn or Crapo, is that all three of these senators signed the “no tax increase” pledge put forth by Americans for Tax Reform (ATR). In other words, the three of them are openly talking about doing something--voting to raise taxes--that they pledged, in writing, that they would not do.

Remember what happened to President George H.W. Bush after he broke his “read my lips” pledge? After raising taxes in 1990, Bush was defeated for re-election in 1992, receiving the lowest percentage of popular vote for an incumbent president since 1912.

For his part, Chambliss seems to remember this electoral debacle, and so he tells The Post that he doesn’t “intend” to vote for a tax increase--although, we might note, intentions can always change. For now, Chambliss says, his idea is to vote for tax reform that raises revenues. So no tax increase--only increased revenues. Is that nifty? Or shifty?

Yet as Ryan Ellis of ATR observed this morning, “Chambliss doesn't consider getting rid of tax deductions and credits to be tax hikes.” Ellis points to the exact language of the pledge that Chambliss signed, which includes these words: “oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.” That is, any loophole-closing must be matched by an equal amount of tax-rate cutting.

Ellis adds that closing a loophole is the same as raising a rate:

Chambliss seems to be saying he wants to not plow all the savings into lower rates. If so, that's inconsistent with his Pledge. The mortgage interest deduction (to take but a large example) is not "spending" like HUD is spending. The former lets people keep their own money. The latter requires money to be taken in taxes, filtered through government unions in Washington, and then sent out the door as welfare. To equate the two is fundamentally dishonest. The government does not have a right to all your money, as Chambliss' tax theory seems to imply.

We might note that Chambliss, Coburn and Crapo are being joined in this Gang of Six by three Democratic Senators: Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Dick Durbin of Illinois, and Mark Warner of Virginia.

The bipartisan senatorial sextet took their roadshow to Richmond on Monday night, delivering a slide presentation to a town hall in Warner’s home state. Perhaps--just guessing here--it’s on Warner’s mind that as a Democratic Senator in a Republican state, his re-election chances will be helped if three Republican Senators come to the Old Dominion and publicly praise him.

From a partisan point of view, it’s bad enough that Chambliss, Coburn, and Crapo are providing “political cover” to Warner and other red-state Democrats. Yet much worse is the economic reality that the three Republicans are throwing away their best leverage on controlling the spending process. As Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman always said, the only possible check on spending is taxes. And so if we open the spigot on taxes, we open the spigot on spending.

Of course, the mainstream media won’t report on any of that. What the MSM will say is more like, “Brave U.S. Senators, rising above party labels, are working together to solve an urgent problem.”

Meanwhile, if history is any guide--and it is--here’s what will happen: Democrats will dig in their heels in opposition to any real spending cuts, other than defense, while insisting, of course, on real tax increases.

Then, as the negotiations stall, the MSM--joined, of course, by the Beltway Establishment--will pile on Republicans for being “intransigent.”

And so, under powerful media pressure to make a deal, any deal--and eager to continue getting nice write-ups from the Washington Post’s David Broder--Republicans will start accepting fake budget cuts. They will agree, for example, to count lower interest payments on the national debt as part of the increasingly fictional spending cut total. That is, fewer and fewer actual spending programs get cut--only notional numbers in the distant fiscal “out years.”

Eventually, the smoke clears, and the deal is done. The Republicans get praised on “Face the Nation,” while taxes AND spending go up. We might recall, of course, that in 1990, in the wake of the Bush 41 tax-increasing “budget deal,” the deficit went up, too.

That’s the usual dreary Beltway scenario for bigger and bigger government. We’ve seen it all too often. But this time there is a NEW ingredient in the old, tired recipe. So the question today is, “Can the Tea Party make a difference this time?” Well, tea partiers, what’s the answer?

James P. Pinkerton is a writer, Fox News contributor and the editor/founder of SeriousMedicineStrategy.