Like Having Medicare? Then Taxes Must Rise
By DAVID LEONHARDT
Toward the end of Monday’s meetings on fiscal responsibility at the White House, Senator Kent Conrad stood up and produced a little bolt of honesty. “Revenue is the thing almost nobody wants to talk about,” said Mr. Conrad, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. “But I think if we’re going to be honest with each other, we’ve got to recognize that is part of a solution as well.”
Mr. Conrad’s frankness was delivered in the cryptic language of budget experts, and many people might have missed the point. So allow me to translate:
Your taxes are going up.
They will probably go up in the coming decade, and the increase will be permanent. For a half-century, federal taxes have remained fairly constant relative to the size of the American economy — equal to about 18 percent of gross domestic product. But the 18 percent era has to end soon.
It won’t end because President Obama is some radical tax and spender, either. It will end because of a basic economic reality.
Americans have made it clear that they want a certain kind of government, one that can field a strong military and also maintain popular programs like Medicare. Yet we are not paying nearly enough taxes to maintain those programs. Even major changes to the health care system — the single most important step for closing the budget gap — will not close it entirely. Taxes must rise, too.
This is a point on which serious Democrats and serious Republicans agree, even if they do so with euphemism. “We are on an unsustainable path,” says Peter Orszag, Mr. Obama’s budget director. Judd Gregg, the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, has said, “Revenues are going to have to go up.” Douglas Holtz-Eakin and Dan Crippen, budget experts who advised the McCain campaign, have quietly acknowledged the same.
Fortunately, the coming tax increase does not have to be economically ruinous. Despite all the scary stories you’ve heard, the evidence that higher taxes necessarily cripple an economy is somewhere between thin and nonexistent.
When over the past 60 years did the American economy grow fastest? The 1950s and 1960s, when the top marginal tax rate was a now-unthinkable 90 percent. And when over the past generation did the economy grow fastest? The late 1990s, when President Bill Clinton briefly took federal taxes to 20 percent of the G.D.P.
The whole article is very much worth reading.