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Behind the Lines: Tax cut wars

Published July 16, 2012 7:13 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

This week's guest columnist for Behind the Lines is Kirk Millson, a former member of The Tribune's editorial board and now a realtor with Plumb & Co. in Sugar House.

Bagley: Thanks for agreeing to take up newspaper opinion writing again. Good to have you here. The Obama "Jobs" cartoon was popular with Tribune readers, probably because there is something in it for everyone. Conservatives like to see Obama failing, and liberals see Republicans as contributing to that failure. Also, we all know that neighbor.

Kirk: Hi Pat. Thanks for inviting me to bloviate. I've always admired your work, and I especially like this cartoon, though I'm afraid you've mischaracterized the Republicans' role in this. Far from leaning on the fence, House Republicans have passed budgets designed to jump-start the economy, and the Democrats — who have not proposed a budget in more than 1,000 days — have killed them in the Senate. I also think you're off the mark about why conservatives might enjoy the cartoon. It's nice to see a little criticism of Obama in the lefty-sphere, and it's especially funny to watch him yank away, if you consider that the odds are high that he's struggling with a government-made mower. But I don't know anyone who is happy that Obama still hasn't figured out how private-sector jobs are created. If the economy were humming along and government were out of our hair, most of us wouldn't care who was president. If Obama were pushing for Bill Clinton's spending levels along with his tax rates, I'd slap a ''Yes We Can'' sticker on my car.

Bagley: That's the Kirk I remember from editorial board meetings! That's a lot to unpack, but I will try to simplify: If private sector jobs are created by a) tax cuts for the rich and, b) deregulation, then the America of George W. Bush should have been a bright shining city on a hill of humming industry and happy capitalists. Instead, we got the weakest job and wage growth combined with the biggest jump in income inequality since World War II. The Paul Ryan Republican budget, which you refer to above and has been endorsed by Mitt Romney, is zombie economics dug up for one last brain-eating stroll. At the heart of the Ryan budget is a) even more tax cuts for the rich and, b) even more deregulation. Focus groups that have had the Ryan budget explained to them have refused to believe that it is an actual proposal and suspect it is some Democratic Party dirty trick to make the GOP look bad.

Oh, and did I mention that the crowning achievement of eight years of Bush economics was the worst financial and economic crisis since the Great Depression?

Kirk: If you remember those editorial meetings, you know I'm no fan of Dubya. But he didn't just cut taxes for the rich; he cut taxes in every income bracket. Now Obama wants to extend those cuts to all but the top 2 percent of earners. I wrote an editorial criticizing Bush's tax cuts because they removed so many people from the income tax rolls, which meant they would no longer care how big the government grew. That percentage is close to 50 percent today. That other 2 percent for whom Obama wants tax hikes now does, in fact, represent the job creators. The rest of us don't have the means to hire anyone. I don't know whether shaking the rich down for another $50 billion a year will kill the economy as the GOP claims, but it won't put a dent in the trillions of dollars of deficits that the government is projecting. The feds don't need more money; they need to spend less.

As for Ryan's budget, whatever its faults at least it attempts to restructure entitlements so they are there for the people they were designed for — the poor, not every last one of us — for the next hundred years. And again, until the Democrats show some backbone and produce a budget of their own, they'll have no room to talk.

Re the economic crisis, there is plenty of blame to go around among the reprobates in both parties. We could spend a whole blog on that topic. But we seem to be drifting here. Maybe we, like the president, ought to focus on jobs.

Bagley: OK, jobs. The American Society of Engineers puts needed repairs to our public infrastructure at $2.2 trillion. These are essential projects that become even more costly if delayed. For example, a 10-mile section of I-80 through Nevada will cost $6 million to repair if done now, but the cost will rocket to $30 million if put off for two years. With the ability to borrow at 1.5 percent interest, why not put millions of Americans to work while at the same time making an investment that will pay big dividends far into our future? Public projects that used to be GOP favorites have suddenly become "budget-busting, job-killing, government spending ..." simply, it seems, because they were proposed by Obama.

Say, you don't think that guy on the fence put sugar in the gas tank because he wants Obama to fail ..!?

Kirk: Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Obama used the "shovel-ready jobs" mantra to justify $800 billion in "stimulus" as well as an expansion of government to the biggest share of GDP since World War II. But relatively little of that money went toward infrastructure. Most of the stimulus went to prop up public-sector union pensions and health care plans. The federal government is already spending too much money. If Obama wants to redirect some of his $3.6 trillion federal budget toward rebuilding infrastructure, I doubt he'll get much opposition from the GOP. As for your putting sugar in Obama's gas tank, if "mowing the lawn" means expanding the public sector, I'll throw in a few spoonfuls myself.

Bagley: Stimulus. Budgets. Infrastructure. Income inequality. Taxes. Job creators. Expansion of government. Public-sector unions. Pensions. Health care. Jobs ... So much to address and so little time. In the future you'll be back and we can dedicate quality time to each. In the meantime, while I agree that the stimulus could have been better focused (40 percent went to tax cuts — it was the only way certain Republicans would sign on), according to the Congressional Budget Office the stimulus "[i]ncreased the number of people employed by between 1.4 million and 3.3 million." Unlike other recessions, the number of people employed in the public sector has actually fallen, so these numbers represent an increase in private sector employment. A better crafted Stimulus II with an emphasis on infrastructure could create millions more jobs, but good luck with that; Congress would rather lean on the fence and watch Obama sweat.

The Top Comment from last week is from builderjohn:

"Obama is a Keynesian, Romney is a Keynesian, 'Now is the worst time to raise taxes on anyone.' Boehner, McConnell, the vast majority of Congress, who agree with the above, are Keynesians. Even the patron saint of the GOP, Ronald Reagan, was a Keynesian, though he might not have realized it.

All God's children got Keynesian economics."