Republican Senator Jon Kyl, appearing on the weekly "Fox News Sunday" program yesterday, made an extraordinary admission that Democrats should put front and center of their campaigning -- because it points out the gigantic flaw in the Republican argument on the federal budget, the deficit, and the national debt. Republicans have been trying to have it both ways on this issue, and it took Fox's Chris Wallace to ask the question which exposed their double standard.
Here's the uncut transcript of this segment of the discussion between Wallace and Kyl (the full transcript of the whole interview can be found at Fox, on pages five through seven):
Q: The president was on the campaign trail this week and he was trying out new lines of attack against Republicans, and he tried to frame the debate as a choice between his agenda and the Bush GOP policies, which he said drive -- drove the economy into a ditch over the last -- previous eight years. Clearly the polls indicate support for this president is waning. On the other hand, those same polls indicate that voters still don't like what President Bush and the Republicans during those eight years did for the economy.
KYL: I don't think that's right, Chris. The American people strongly support the biggest positive impact that you could have on the economy, the so-called "Bush tax cuts" of '01 and '03. And those tax cuts are set to expire at the end of this year. The president had said that he would protect middle class taxpayers from those tax rates going back up at the end of this year. So far he has not chosen to do so. That's going to be a huge hit to the economy. And you can't blame President Bush for everything, by the way. That which occurred on Wall Street, with Fannie and Freddie and so on -- I mean, we can have a debate about that all day, about who is really responsible. But I -- you can't put that at the foot of President Bush.
Q: But, Senator...
KYL: The reality is...
KYL: Yes, go ahead, Chris.
Q: Senator, let me just break in, because I want to pick up on exactly the point that you just brought up, particularly, the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. That is part of the big Republican growth agenda, let's keep, not let expire, the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. The fact is those would cost $678 billion over 10 years. At a time Republicans are saying that they can't extend unemployment benefits unless you pay for them, tell me, how are you going to pay that $678 billion to keep those Bush tax cuts for the wealthy?
KYL: Chris, that is a loaded question. The Bush tax cuts applied to every single American. In fact...
Q: I'm talking about the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, sir.
KYL: Well, OK. So let's, first of all, start with those that don't apply to the wealthy. Shouldn't those be extended? Shouldn't you have a 10 percent tax bracket so that people don't have to pay income taxes who don't make very much money? Shouldn't you do away with the marriage penalty? Shouldn't you have the child tax credit at $1,000 per child, and so on? All of that goes away. Now, with respect to those that apply to the upper brackets, it's very clear that you're going to clobber small business because the bulk of small business taxes are paid in the top income tax rate.
Q: But, sir, how are you going to -- because we are running out of time, how are you going to pay the $678 billion just on the tax cuts for people over -- making more than $200,000 a year?
KYL: ... you should never raise taxes in order to cut taxes. Surely Congress has the authority, and it would be right to -- if we decide we want to cut taxes to spur the economy, not to have to raise taxes in order to offset those costs. You do need to offset the cost of increased spending, and that's what Republicans object to. But you should never have to offset cost of a deliberate decision to reduce tax rates on Americans.
Kyl is actually admitting, to a persistent and very focused question, that tax cuts which add to the deficit are somehow like calories from a chocolate bar when you're on a diet -- they "don't count," in other words, in some unspecified way.
This is an enormous opening for Democrats to paint the Republicans as fiscally unserious. Republicans have spent a lot of time and effort convincing the media that the number one issue on most voters' minds right now is the deficit and the debt (that this is just not true has largely escaped most "journalists" who have been faithfully parroting this talking point for months now, but that's beside the point).
But this blade cuts both ways. If Republicans are going to stop a bill to extend unemployment which costs less than $40 billion, then how can they turn around and advocate extending the Bush tax cuts on the rich which would cost almost seven hundred billion dollars and still say with a straight face that they're some sort of "deficit hawks"?
Wallace, interestingly enough, did his homework on the question, and asked specifically about the tax cuts on people making over $200,000 -- a question I simply have not heard yet from any non-Fox "liberal media" member so far, I should point out. This cuts the knees out from the typical Republican response (which Kyl attempted), which is to talk about all the "middle-class tax cuts" which are also going to expire (actually, Democrats will likely extend these tax cuts while letting the "bonanza for the wealthy" part expire, but this matters little to Republicans making this argument, so I only mention it in passing).
Democrats have a wonderful opportunity here to hoist Republicans on their own petard. Any time a Republican starts talking about tax cuts, the first thing out of a Democrats' mouth in response should be: "Well, how are you going to pay for these tax cuts so they don't hike the deficit?" Republicans are already on the record opposing a relatively modest unemployment benefit extension, for the sole reason that "it adds to the deficit." So they've laid down the rules they're supposed to be standing up for. Meaning it is entirely fair game to ask them "How will you pay for your proposed tax cuts?" Since they never have an answer to this question -- other than the widely-discredited and thoroughly-debunked "tax cuts pay for themselves" nonsense -- this immediately leads to framing the issue as: "You're OK with adding seven hundred billion dollars to our debt to give wealthy taxpayers an enormous Christmas present in the form of tax cuts -- without even pretending to pay for it -- but you howl when we try to keep millions of out-of-work Americans from financial ruin for a fraction of the same price?"
In fact, Democrats really should go completely on the offensive on this issue. I know the "family budget" metaphor is both overused and oversimplified to begin with, but it seems to be the one that has taken hold among the public, so this might be the way to go.
Here is what I would say, were I a Democrat trying to get elected or re-elected this year, in a stump speech or in an interview.
Republicans are out there trying to convince the American public that they're the party of fiscal responsibility and that they stand above all else for reducing the deficit in our federal budget. This is absolutely laughable for anyone who can remember the last ten years, but I'm going to put the past aside and just take a look at how Republicans are suggesting we solve our problems using the "family budget at the kitchen table" metaphor they've been using.
In a family, the money you take in is from working -- your income. Everything you spend is your costs. For the federal government, the money which comes in is from taxes. So when Jon Kyl says that he wants to extend the Bush tax cuts on the ultra-wealthy, and that he doesn't think he should have to pay for it in any way, what he is really saying is that our family's income is going to shrink. It'd be like if you got laid off your job at the factory and got a new job flipping burgers -- your income would go down. You'd be taking less money in. But if you still have the same costs, then you would be even further in the hole, financially.
Now, in our federal "family," we're not just paying costs as they happen, we're also paying costs for some mighty big things that Republicans, when they were in charge, put on our family's credit card -- with absolutely no thought of ever paying for them. And those interest charges have now come due. Republicans, when they ran things in Washington, racked up enormous balances on the nation's credit cards, with things like Medicare Part D, which helps seniors pay for prescription drugs. They have never suggested how we pay for this, and they still have no idea how to do so, other than borrowing money from China.
So not only did Republicans cut the family income (by enormous tax cuts on the wealthy), but they also went on a spending spree with the credit cards. That is the major reason why our deficit is so high today.
So I would like to challenge Republicans to figure out -- before you start talking about lowering our family's income even further -- how to pay for the things which they passed when they last were in charge. When a Republican stands up and says "Here's my plan to pay for both our wars and all the additional spending we passed when we ran Washington" -- then I'll start to take Republicans seriously on the debt and the deficit. Until then, though, Republicans are saying we should shrink our income before we even make any attempt to pay off the huge credit card bill that they racked up with all of their spending.
Jon Kyl thinks he can continue the Bush tax cuts on people making over $200,000 per year, and that the $678 billion that this adds to the deficit somehow "doesn't count." This is ridiculous. If you want to be serious about being fiscally responsible -- and if you want people to take you seriously on the subject -- then you can't have some sort of double standard where you hold the line on new spending but ignore the fact that tax cuts add to the deficit. We could slash government spending, and if Republicans cut taxes all they wanted to, then we'd still have a huge deficit -- because their numbers simply don't add up. You simply cannot cut the family income and go on a spree with the credit cards at the same time and call yourself fiscally responsible, because as every family around a kitchen table doing a budget knows, those numbers are just not going to add up to anything but financial disaster, for years to come.
Cross-posted at The Huffington Post
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-- Chris Weigant