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The Debate Remains the Same

For all the partisan bickering, bloviating and Bork-ing that goes on in Congress, there are, underneath it all, some fairly basic and straight-forward ideological and philosophical differences between Republican and Democrat, Conservative and Liberal. No one should be so naïve as to think that everything every politician does is grounded in principle, but it is to our detriment if we fail to identify when genuinely important ideas are raised and debated in the public square.

One of the perpetual debates that rage, often just below the superficial surface of sound-bites and talking points, between Right and Left involves the levels of taxation our government should levy against its citizens.

Case in point: The recent exchanges between Democrat and Republican leadership in the House over potential votes on extending the “Bush tax-cuts.”

Putting aside the legislative and procedural triangulation that surrounds a vote like this, and setting aside the fact that no president can levy or repeal taxes (thus rendering the “Bush tax cuts” the “Peoples’ chamber’s tax-cuts”), what remains is an important political decision that will likely be made along ideological lines. There are real, practical implications for both sides’ position.

Center-Left politicians tend to see the economic world through Keynesian lenses, a theory that stresses the need for government intervention and fiscal stimulus. This economic theory partners well with the Left’s collectivist, re-distributist social and political tendencies. For more money to be spent (and spread around), more money must be collected. Result: liberals and progressive endorse higher taxes.

Center-Right politicians tend to see the economic world through free market and supply-side lenses, theories that stress the need for the government to remain an umpire more than become a player on the field of the American economy. This economic theory partners well with the Right’s de-centralized, strict-constructionist, republican (small “r”) social and political tendencies. Wealth-creation is the only legitimate way for one to move from “poor” to “not poor,” and the public sector cannot, by definition, create wealth. Result: conservative and libertarians endorse lower taxes.

We hear some of the core differences spelled out in a recent letter Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) sent to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA): 

The “stimulus” has failed, and more than two million Americans have lost their jobs since it was enacted. The economic uncertainty facing entrepreneurs and employers is crippling small business job creation, and it’s long past time for this Congress to act to help get the economy back on track. The House should have a free and open debate where alternatives can be debated and voted on, and if the Speaker isn’t willing to allow an open process she shouldn’t count on our votes. We’re confident that if our plan to stop all of the tax hikes on American families and small businesses was given a vote in the House, it would pass. 

Again, if you look past what some may call the “political expediency” of sending such a letter at such a time as this, when Democrats are running behind in the polls and Republicans are beginning to (perhaps prematurely) feel their oats, you hear the same “high taxes v. low taxes” disagreement that has dominated ideologically-driven discussion in boardrooms, classrooms, and the hallowed halls of congress for decades.

I point this out because it matters. It matters that you know where you come down on such an issue as this. It matters that you equip yourself with the relevant information and appropriate context needed to decide where you come down on such an issue as this.

If you don’t decide for yourself, someone else will.