No Tax Hikes, Ever

AMES, Iowa – Matt Yglesias hones in one of the defining moments of last night’s debate, which was lost a bit in… was there really a 20-minute foreign policy discussion? It was lost in that.

Who up on the stage would agree to a package of 10:1 budget cuts to tax increases, with the stipulation that the cuts are “real”? The answer: nobody. One can say that this was merely politicians playing to their base and some of them know better. And perhaps it was, but it’s extremely difficult to turn around and break a promise like that. So you have the entire Republican Party committed to the view not only that tax increases are undesirable, but that it’s unthinkable to include even small increases in a bipartisan bargain for large spending cuts.

Mitt Romney’s defining moment yesterday probably occured at the state fair, and it was on this issue. He scrapped with one of the liberal heckler/activists by saying, when asked if he’d strengthen entitlements without cuts, that he wouldn’t raise taxes.

This is good talk for a GOP primary, but it’s also a really unpopular position. Congressional Republicans get away with holding it because there are so many veto points in the system that they can block any tax hike they don’t like – they can even kill the SuperCongress’s plan. Presidential candidates, theoretically, will have a tougher time of it in 2012. But after 2012, even the most idealistic Democratic scenario involves a Senate that’s got too many Republicans in it to get 60 votes for any liberal priority. So, no tax hikes without reconcilation.