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The “sequester” that went into effect on March 1st is another clear indication of the stranglehold that anti-tax zealots still have over Washington. While lawmakers across the political spectrum (and particularly those outside the Beltway) oppose the sequester’s $85 billion in across-the-board cuts, the failure to reach a deal to replace these cuts rests entirely with anti-tax lawmakers who have blocked any agreement that would include any revenue increases at all.
The primary argument made to justify this anti-tax position is that the fiscal cliff deal already raised a substantial amount of revenue; they’re saying the President “already got” his tax increase. According to the official scorekeepers at the Congressional Budget Office however, the fiscal cliff deal actually reduces revenue by almost $4 trillion over the next decade because it made most of the Bush tax cuts permanent, renewed a slew of special interest tax breaks for a year, and extended some expanded refundable tax credits for five years.
Even if you accept that the Fiscal Cliff “raised” $620 billion in revenue (measured against what would have happened if Congress had extended all the tax cuts instead of 85 percent of them), the reality is that having anything close to a balanced approach to deficit reduction should include raising a whole lot more revenue. This may be news to Republican House Speaker John Boehner, who recently asked “When is the president going to address the spending side of this?” But Congress has already enacted $3 in spending cuts for every $1 in revenue raised by the fiscal cliff deal. If the sequester is allowed to stay in effect, or is replaced entirely by spending cuts, the ratio of spending cuts to revenue increases will rise to as high as 5-to-1.
For his part, President Obama has offered a plan that would replace the sequester with $1.8 trillion in deficit reduction, including $1,130 billion in spending cuts and $680 billion in revenue increases. The President is proposing to raise about $583 billion of the $680 billion in revenue by limiting the tax savings of each dollar of certain deductions and exclusions to 28 cents.
President Obama’s plan, however, does not ask for nearly enough revenue to replace the trillions lost by making the Bush tax cuts permanent, or to even make the level of revenue increases equal to the level of spending cuts enacted during his first term. In fact, if Congress enacted President Obama’s plan as is, it would still mean that well over $2 in spending cuts will have been enacted for every $1 in revenue increases.
The fairest approach would be to replace the entirety of the sequester cuts with new revenue. To accomplish this, lawmakers should not only limit deductions and exclusions as President Obama is proposing, but should also consider raising hundreds of billions of dollars more by eliminating the tax breaks and loopholes that allow wealthy individuals and corporations to shelter their income from taxation.
Taking a step back, it’s simply unjustifiable to proceed with devastating spending cuts that would reduce already meager unemployment benefits by eleven percent, or deny aid to as many as 750,000 women and children, just to preserve exorbitant, unwarranted tax breaks for the wealthiest individuals and profitable corporations.