2012 Republican Candidates Can't Just Blame Government for America's Problems


The Republican narrative thus far in the 2012 presidential race has been simple: Big government is bad for everything. Taxes are “job-killers,” if not an act of unnecessary intervention. Government needs to “get off our backs” or we will continue to plummet into an economic chasm.

Rhetoric and political desires aside, a simple observation of the facts clearly uncovers that the Republican narrative – from taxes to government regulation – is, in fact, a fantasy.

Let’s first look into the most defining element of the current Republican agenda: taxes. Scores of House Republicans have taken an oath to vote against any bill that would raise taxes. Texas Governor Rick Perry just recently signed a pledge that requires him to veto any bill that raises taxes should he become president. Last week, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney added himself to the long list of those who deem high taxes “job-killers.”

For politicians especially, it is completely inappropriate to enter into debate having already ruled out compromise. After all, it was these same Republicans who criticized the Palestinians for refusing to surrender their preconditions before negotiations. Sounds similar to me. 

Moreover, the evidence shows that taxes are hardly a diminishing factor for job growth. In fact, the opposite may be true. In 1948, we had a top-tier tax rate of 91% and an unemployment rate of just 3.4%. In 2010, however, our top tax rate was just 33%, and unemployment had soared to 9.7%. As far as history is concerned, it is low taxes, not high taxes, which killed the jobs. 

But the Republican fantasies do not only include taxes. In Tuesday night’s Republican presidential debate, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) stated that employers across the country have made clear that their biggest hurdle to creating jobs is Obamacare and unnecessary government regulation.

Paul Krugman, citing the National Federation of Independent Business, notes “that lack of demand, not fear of government, is holding business back.” Businesses are not hiring because of poor sales; government has nothing to do with it.

In terms of regulation in general, few doubt that there are places where it goes too far, and President Barack Obama has acknowledged this fact. But my guess is few would like to return to the days when the food and medical industries went about their business untouched and many died or got sick as a result. There are reasons the Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, and many other government agencies exist — sometimes we need our government.

The next brilliant conservative idea is the Balanced Budget Amendment. The only way to hold government accountable, Republicans maintain, is to constitutionally force it to construct a balanced budget.

That sounds very nice, but unfortunately it is impossible. For example, since the president takes an oath to defend the Constitution on Inauguration Day, does he then have then the right to manipulate a given budget without congressional approval, in the name of his duty to uphold the Balanced Budget Amendment? 

Moreover, it would create an unsustainable judicial disaster. As Robert H. Bork, a former solicitor general and federal judge, points out: “By the time the Supreme Court straightened the whole matter out, the budget in question would be at least four years out of date and lawsuits involving the next three fiscal years would be slowly climbing toward the Supreme Court.”

Walter E. Dellinger, an acting solicitor general under President Bill Clinton, argues that a Balanced Budget Amendment “would do grave harm to our constitutional system, because the process for enforcing it would be uncertain and perilous.” It seems Republicans have not given this much thought.

But since when does that stop them?

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