Columns » John Brummett

Read their lips: No new taxes

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I like and admire some Republicans. All four of them know full well how I feel.

But I must rise today in newly invigorated resistance to this prevailing modern extremist Republican assault both on government and our time-honored principle by which the fortunate are taxed to help the less fortunate.

At its benign best, this assault is based on a genuine conservative belief that we'll all be better off if government is pared and people are left to the natural devices of a market economy. At its malignant worst, it is based on a conspiracy against the idea that we should seek a better society through government via progressive taxation to ensure that basic human needs never go unattended in such a wealthy, powerful and compassionate nation.

I do not presume to say which it is, except that attitudes and purposes surely vary Republican to Republican.

What has happened over the past four of five days in Washington is instructive. What has happened over the last three or four days in Little Rock has been unsettling.

In Washington, President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, a left-leaning seeker of compromise and right-leaning dealmaker, apparently were finding common personal ground by which practical solutions to vexing problems seemed to be in sight.

To make budget cuts for the purpose of raising the debt ceiling and avoiding default, Obama would go along with Republicans on some form of means-testing of Medicare and long-term savings in Social Security.

In exchange, Boehner would accept reforms in the tax code by which rich people and some corporations would start paying taxes they are not now paying. Boehner apparently indicated a willingness to let the Bush tax cuts on high incomes expire if, but only if, this expiration was accompanied by real reforms in the tax code by which, presumably, all tax rates conceivably could be lowered.

On Saturday night, Boehner notified Obama it was a no-go. His right flank had told him absolutely not.

This extremist flank, now in full control of Republicanism, was led by Eric Cantor, Republican of Virginia.

You remember him. He was last seen saying that poor blown-away people in Joplin shouldn't get any government help unless we first cut spending elsewhere to pay for whatever we would expend on them.

Let us not ignore the utter clarity in what Cantor and the prevailing Republican contingent are saying. It is that they will let our nation default on its debt, and that they will reduce services to their countrymen in need, before they will go along with higher tax bills on rich people's luxury jets or on the profits of General Electric or the oil companies.

Whatever they profess to be their supposedly benign or noble motivation neither changes nor mitigates one syllable of that preceding paragraph.

Meantime, back in Little Rock, state government reports that it took in $95 million more in the fiscal year ending June 30 than it had conservatively projected to take in, mostly because of more investment earning taxes than had been expected.

Gov. Mike Beebe says we ought to hold this money to plug in shortfalls in exploding costs of Medicaid for the health care of the poor and disabled. Meantime, he has his human services people hard at work on trying to reform Medicaid to find long-term savings in the way we reimburse providers.

So we have emerging Republican contingents in the legislature who say that, in view of this surplus, we ought to cut taxes. Meantime, Tea Party people scoff at Beebe's fuzzy efforts to reform Medicaid, presumably by threatening minor erosion in the wealth of doctors and providers.

The Republicans' leader in the state House of Representatives, young John Burris of Harrison, went so far the other day as to say we shouldn't keep paying so many medical bills for so many people on Medicaid.

Presumably his premise is that poor people and disabled people will get richer or be healed if only we would cut everybody's taxes.

Well, that's the generous spin.

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