Taxes, Revenue and Economic Growth

Taxes, Revenue and Economic Growth June 15, 2012

Bruce Bartlett, the longtime Republican economist who has spent the last several years showing that the Republican party is entirely out of touch on matters of budget and taxes, has a column based on a new CBO report that shows that if we’d left tax rates the same in 2001 and 2003, much of the debt accumulated since then could have been avoided.

In January 2001, the office projected that the federal government would run a total budget surplus of $3.5 trillion through 2008 if policy was unchanged and the economy continued according to forecast. In fact, there was a deficit of $5.5 trillion.

The projected surplus was primarily the result of two factors. First was a big tax increase in 1993 that every Republican in Congress voted against, saying that it would tank the economy. This belief was wrong. The economy boomed in 1994, growing 4.1 percent that year and strongly throughout the Clinton administration.

The second major contributor to budget surpluses that emerged in 1998 was tough budget controls that were part of the 1990 and 1993 budget deals. The main one was a requirement that spending could not be increased or taxes cut unless offset by spending cuts or tax increases. This was known as Paygo, for pay as you go.

But the Republicans in Congress eliminated Paygo in 2002 and pushed through tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, claiming that it would cause an economic boom. It didn’t, of course. And we’re still paying for the debt created by the dramatically reduced revenue:

The 2001 tax cut did nothing to stimulate the economy, yet Republicans pushed for additional tax cuts in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006 and 2008. The economy continued to languish even as the Treasury hemorrhaged revenue, which fell to 17.5 percent of the gross domestic product in 2008 from 20.6 percent in 2000. Republicans abolished Paygo in 2002, and spending rose to 20.7 percent of G.D.P. in 2008 from 18.2 percent in 2001.

According to the C.B.O., by the end of the Bush administration, legislated tax cuts reduced revenues and increased the national debt by $1.6 trillion. Slower-than-expected growth further reduced revenues by $1.4 trillion.

However, the Bush tax cuts continued through 2010, well into the Obama administration. These reduced revenues by another $369 billion, adding that much to the debt. Legislated tax cuts enacted by President Obama and Democrats in Congress reduced revenues by an additional $407 billion in 2009 and 2010. Slower growth reduced revenues by a further $1.3 trillion. Contrary to Republican assertions, there were no additional revenues from legislated tax increases…

Putting all the numbers in the C.B.O. report together, we see that continuation of tax and budget policies and economic conditions in place at the end of the Clinton administration would have led to a cumulative budget surplus of $5.6 trillion through 2011 – enough to pay off the $5.6 trillion national debt at the end of 2000.

Tax cuts and slower-than-expected growth reduced revenues by $6.1 trillion and spending was $5.6 trillion higher, a turnaround of $11.7 trillion. Of this total, the C.B.O. attributes 72 percent to legislated tax cuts and spending increases, 27 percent to economic and technical factors. Of the latter, 56 percent occurred from 2009 to 2011.

The vastly increased spending on the Iran and Afghanistan wars would still have boosted the deficit, but not nearly as much as it has been with the reduced revenue from the tax cuts. And all we had to do is leave the taxes where they were in the 90s. But to hear the tea partiers tell it, we must have been a tyrannical socialist country in the 90s, though no one seems to have noticed it.


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