Columns » Ernest Dumas

Republicans want it both ways

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Republicans want it both ways

n Nine years ago, in one of his liberal phases, Gov. Mike Huckabee offered a proverb that describes perfectly the dilemma or the strategy of hisparty today.

"It's the old classic," Huckabee said on his radio call-in show. "Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die."

Angry callers were giving him fits. He had been re-elected a couple of weeks earlier after campaigning as a tax-cutter, and then a few days after the election announced that taxes had to be raised to avert big reductions in services to the aged and disabled and other programs. He wanted to raise the sales tax five-eighths of a percent.

Huckabee aimed his riposte at callers who did not want to pay more taxes but did not want health services cut or prisoners released and also at legislators who had reacted negatively to his tax proposal. They couldn't have it both ways.

The petulant behavior that Huckabee described in 2002 now describes his party, both the local and national versions. They oppose raising taxes on the rich and corporations and, in fact, want to reduce or eliminate them, but they do not want to cut significant spending or else they want the president or the governor to do it and take the blame. As Huckabee might say, if he were not now in their corner, they want heaven on earth.

Congressional Republicans, joined by all the party's candidates for president, oppose restoring even a dollar of taxes on people with high incomes or closing even one loophole that allows big corporations and hedge funds to sequester billions in taxable profits. To close the mammoth deficit their policies produced, Republicans have proposed spending cuts in marginal programs like energy and environmental regulation and some medical services, but they demand that President Obama offer cuts in the big spending programs, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, national security and education. Yes, they did propose to change Medicare so that the program would end for elderly and disabled people with modest incomes sometime after 2021. Those people couldn't afford the private insurance that would replace the government program.

But Arkansas Republicans the other day illustrated Huckabee's maxim even more vividly. Tax receipts are falling below levels that would fund the tight budget that Gov. Beebe submitted and that was approved by the legislature after it had cut a bunch of taxes. President Obama's stimulus money, which has propped up Medicaid and other state programs for two years, is running out.

Except for the Public School Fund, state agencies had to make spending cuts across the board and Beebe's Human Services Department made its savings where it thought there would be the least suffering, special aid to 250 foster parents who care for children with behavioral problems.

Republicans howled about the governor's cruelty. Beebe said cuts had to be made somewhere because the legislature had slashed a bunch of taxes against his advice. He had told them that the tax cuts, including a gift to manufacturers who now don't have to pay the same sales taxes on electricity the rest of us do, would force reductions in programs.

Rep. Donna Hutchinson, R-Bella Vista, said Beebe was playing "the Scrooge game." She said the cuts should have been made instead to a program that makes gays, lesbians and transgendered people feel better about themselves. The government operates no such program.

These social service programs, like aid for troubled youngsters, are programs that Republicans oppose as socialism — Medicare and Medicaid are the big national examples — until they are in place and then they denounce Democrats when bad times force cuts in them.

Since we dragged Huckabee into this argument, we should recall what he did in direr circumstances. It is instructive, mainly about how far principle and debate have eroded in only eight and a half years.

Tax collections slumped badly in Arkansas in the two years after the short George Bush recession in the spring of 2001. Bush and the GOP Congress slashed taxes on the rich and corporations. That did not produce the big leap in investment and jobs they predicted and, moreover, it hamstrung the state by robbing it of its estate taxes. Huckabee had added to the problem by signing a bunch of tax exemptions and reductions for various businesses, including taxes on betting at the racetracks.

Like Beebe this year, Huckabee had to find social service and medical programs to cut and he decided to cut a high-priced therapy program for disabled children. When parents protested, he backed off and said he would find a way out of the jam. Beebe, a state senator, and Shane Broadway, the Democratic House leader, produced a package of funding shifts that saved him. A year later, the state was in much worse trouble. That is when Huckabee said he wanted to raise the sales tax. He talked about closing state tax loopholes for rich multinational corporations.

Republicans and Democrats revolted the next month at the regular session and it ended without a tax increase. Huckabee promptly called them into special session and pleaded with them to raise taxes—the sales tax, the personal income tax, corporate taxes, cigarette taxes, anything. They raised all of them.

"Pragmatist" the editorials called Huckabee. "Socialist" is what his party would call him now.

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