The Downside of Decades of Anti-Tax Rhetoric
Matt Yglesias gets this right:
On the merits, I’m not a huge fan of the employer mandate concept in general. Unfortunately, conservative economists and conservative politicians have been extremely effective at making the American political system extraordinarily tax averse. This has created huge incentives to finance things through de facto taxes rather than de jure ones (which is what’s happening here) or through tax expenditures rather than actual expenditures. The aggregate impact of this on American public policy has been quite bad, and its pernicious effects continue to be felt as we watch the health care and cap and trade debate unfold. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell only Bruce Bartlett is willing to come out and say that the conservative anathematization of taxes is now having this negative impact and that conservatives ought to change their view on the matter.
When passing a piece of legislation, there are a couple different types of compromises you can make. If your opponent is reasonable, you can try to compromise on the merits. That would leave you with something like the Wyden-Bennett plan, which there doesn't appear to be much serious support for on either side of the aisle. If your opponent is not reasonable, however, you can try to compromise with the attacks your opponent is likely to use. That leaves you with policy that avoids making hard choices, because hard choices are vulnerable choices.
And that's pretty much where we are now. Democrats are making a lot of bad policy compromises because doing so is good politics. They're trying to fund the bill in the way pollsters would advise rather than policy wonks would choose. They're leaving the employer-based system alone. They're letting everyone keep what they have, even though what everyone has is expensive and inefficient, and is in fact the reason we need health-care reform.
Is it worth being disappointed about that? Sure. But legislation cannot be understood in a vacuum. The place to change the tax argument isn't in final days of health-care reform. It's in the intervening years when Republicans are attacking the very idea of taxation. Any given piece of legislation is only as good as the political culture that's produced it. Right now, our political culture isn't that good. The question is whether legislators are getting the best plausible outcomes out of a badly compromised process.
Photo credit: Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post Photo.
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