Things Republican Politicians Do That Drive Me Crazy

Steve Benen wrote this up today and I am at a total loss as to what the Senate Republicans think this is going to accomplish. Hiding reports doesn’t make the facts go away, and while I understand that you can probably find as many economists to disagree with the report as ones that agree with it, it seems to me that a better solution would be to publish a rebuttal.

In mid-September, the non-partisan Congressional Research Service published a detailed report, documenting the fact that reducing taxes on the wealthy does not, in fact, generate economic growth. Instead, the CRS found, the trickle-down model appears to be “associated with the increasing concentration of income at the top.”

[snip]

But in this case, the CRS presented Republicans with inconvenient truths. A spokesperson for Mitch McConnell said the officials at the research service “decided, on their own, to pull the study pending further review.” While that may be true, the question then becomes how much pressure the CRS officials were under to make this decision “on their own.”

And what is it that Republicans didn’t like about the CRS analysis? McConnell aides offered a series of complaints, including the report’s use of the phrase “Bush tax cuts.”

Apparently, in Republicans’ minds, to say “Bush tax cuts” is to use an inappropriate “tone.”

But putting all of that aside, we simply cannot have a functioning federal system in which neutral, independent offices are ignored, pressured, and/or censored when Republicans don’t like what they have to say. We’ve now seen this recently with the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Congressional Budget Office, and democratic norms dictate that GOP officials cut this out.

Here is the original report, republished by Senate Democrats on their web site.

22 Responses

  1. It’s plain to anyone that looks at the data, low tax rates do not lead to higher growth.

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  2. Ahhh statistics!

    Instead, the CRS found, the trickle-down model appears to be “associated with the increasing concentration of income at the top.”

    Interestingly enough, Dave! found that the percentage of Americans that own microwave ovens also appears to be “associated with the increasing concentration of income at the top.” Correlation does not imply causation.

    What I particularly like about the study is that they start at year 1945 because “the U.S. income tax system was not broad-based before the war—less than 15% of families filed a tax return in 1939; 85% filed a return in 1945.” What that has to do with this study is beyond me since they are looking exclusively at the top .01 and .1 % of earners. What makes this a great year to start is that it removes the fact that rates were high during the depression and war and emphasizes the effect of the post-war boom years when rates were still high.

    This conclusion also only works it one somehow takes out all the other myriad of things that affect growth – from hurricanes to 9-11 hijackers to wars to oil embargos to consumer confidence to….. lack of correlation does not necessarily imply lack of causation.

    In any case, one cannot simply state that based on this study in particular that “low tax rates do not lead to higher growth” because the analysis does not look at low tax rates – it looks at the top rate and the tax rates of the top .01 and .1% – not “low tax rates”.

    Finally, getting the ‘rich to pay a little more’ is like peeing in the ocean to make water rise – it is not going to balance the budget much less solve the debt problem. That fact makes this study and the corresponding class warfare arguments a moot point,IMO.

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  3. Dave!

    Interestingly enough, Dave! found that the percentage of Americans that own microwave ovens also appears to be “associated with the increasing concentration of income at the top.”

    I would like to see the regression analysis on that data set. My guess is that there is no significant association between microwave ownership and concentration of income.

    This conclusion also only works it one somehow takes out all the other myriad of things that affect growth

    Sure. The argument that lower taxes on the wealthy generates economic growth suffers from the same deficit.

    the analysis does not look at low tax rates – it looks at the top rate and the tax rates of the top .01 and .1%

    So, you are saying that lower top taxes rates are not indicative of overall lower tax rates? Then I’d be interested on your take of these charts showing the different tax brackets relative to income.

    getting the ‘rich to pay a little more’ is like peeing in the ocean to make water rise – it is not going to balance the budget much less solve the debt problem.

    Agreed. But cutting taxes on the rich is even less likely to balance the budget or solve the debt problem.

    Finally, to Michi’s original point, there is plenty to critique in this study. But the better way to rebut the study is to publish it then point out all the flaws rather than to try to bury it.

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    • But the better way to rebut the study is to publish it then point out all the flaws rather than to try to bury it.

      Yep. Dave! managed to poke a few holes in the report in a matter of hours. One would think Republicans in Congress could put together a rebuttal over a few days or weeks.

      getting the ‘rich to pay a little more’ is like peeing in the ocean to make water rise – it is not going to balance the budget much less solve the debt problem.

      What’s the ratio of cuts to tax increases that Obama is proposing? Democrats aren’t proposing only tax increases so this particular criticism is simply inapplicable.

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  4. Re: CRS — it’s mission is to serve Congress, not the public. it’s very upfront about that.

    so that’s why they don’t publish the reports. it’s an internal think tank. I don’t agree with that, but you can’t even get a list of what they’ve published. you have to go through a member.

    this group finds and publishes the reports.

    https://opencrs.com/faq/

    “While that may be true, the question then becomes how much pressure the CRS officials were under to make this decision “on their own.””

    I can answer that. none. the member called, they said stop, and that’s that. there was no strong arming here. Bennen is completely ignorant of how CRS functions. CRS holds seminars that aren’t even open to the public.

    also, i took a congressional procedures class form a CRS guy. fascinating. knew the rulebook front and back, historical quirks, and how to use the rules to your advantage.

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  5. NoVA: I understand that they don’t work for the public, but my point is that it had been published for the members–Chuck Schumer referenced it in an interview–but it was withdrawn due to political pressure. That is happening way too much with Republican politicians recently. Deny, deny, deny.

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    • Kelley, you will find this article of interest.

      Just to be clear, not all Rs are playing games for the past. Our Land Commissioner is a R and I always support him. He is the Big Daddy of state supported wind power. TX generates enough wind power for 6 million homes, now, and we aggressively seek more thanks to Patterson, whom I would also support for guv if we ever get rid of RP.

      Wind energy costs as little as NG and they are the two cheapest forms available widely. Coal is about 20% higher, solar about 300%. Hydro, which is cheaper, is not widely available in Texas.

      Nevertheless, the national R Party has left its plains states Rs who favor wind energy in the lurch.

      Dave!, certainly comparisons to 1946-60 when we were the only industrial power in the western world should be discarded, IMHO. I know you agree. No matter what we taxed short of confiscation the economy would have and did boom. We had the only game in town. Then the rebuilt new factories of Japan and Germany began to kick our ass. I think it is fair to compare results since after the VN War. You and I could have a focused discussion on that period. I think Kelley is asking why the Report was suppressed rather than debated. Thanx, NoVA, for the inside take on congressional research.

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  6. I’m disputing the political pressure aspect. CRS didn’t push back. it’s not in their DNA. if the requesting members says bury it and burn your notes CRS will gladly do so

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  7. Is it really a surprise that the party that ignores science ignores other data that challenges their belief system?

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  8. Mark, I imagine others can also cite sane Republicans at the local & state levels. If there are any left in Congress or the national party leadership, they seem to be reluctant to publicly question party orthodoxy.

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  9. I just voted for a bunch of Rs at the local level. None at the national level though.

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  10. Simply as a matter of principle I vote a straight D ticket here. The only ones who have ever won were our previous AG and Jim Matheson (who might as well be a Republican).

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  11. Michi:

    Looks like you won’t have to worry about voting for Matheson after this cycle.

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  12. Mike:

    After redistricting I’m not in his district anymore. I told him to his face in both 2008 and 2010 that I’d voted for his opponent.

    Mia Love is downright scary, though. She’s a woman with limited interest in governing and major interest in power.

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  13. @Mike: “It’s plain to anyone that looks at the data, low tax rates do not lead to higher growth.”

    I think that’s the wrong side of the argument to take. The point is that confiscatory tax rates necessarily slow growth (then we argue about what is confiscatory). Low tax rates aren’t magic beans. They don’t magically create economic growth in the absence of other factors.

    And what about high tax rates slow economic growth? It makes it harder to start and grow businesses, or to hire folks or pay for services that, in turn, would help start and grow businesses. That is: it raises the bar for starting, running, and maintaining a business.

    It is not the only thing that makes it harder to run a business. Regulation, compliance, zoning laws, etc., etc., all make running a business (and thus contributing to the growth of the economy) more difficult, and all deserve some attention.

    That being said, I think lower tax rates on the middle classes probably do help the economy grow, as whatever extra money these folks get is likely to be spent on products and services, and that includes folks making in the upper six figures. But even that probably isn’t axiomatic.

    That being said, politicians who repress reports (and this is, IMHO, a problem with politicrats, not Democrats or Republicans, most of whom are, IMHO, Politicrats, with their proper party affiliation being a matter of geographical and demographic convenience) are kind a creepy, and are broadcasting it. Refute it in public, don’t repress.

    @bismon1970: “Is it really a surprise that the party that ignores science ignores other data that challenges their belief system?”

    Politicians don’t ignore science or data in either party, so long as the science and data supports the conclusions they’ve already reached. Politicians will tend to argue and dismiss any data that does not support their foregone conclusions, however, and this tends to be party neutral, with one party doing it more on a given topic or at a given time than the other.

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  14. KW:

    That’s not me at the top of the comments. But to respond …

    The point is that confiscatory tax rates necessarily slow growth (then we argue about what is confiscatory).

    This argument suffers from the same problem that Dave! pointed out — it doesn’t take into account any of the other myriad of things that affect growth. Our economy boomed during times of high taxation during the 1950s and 1960s, crashed during times of lower taxation in 2000 and 2008.

    The point of the report was “to clarify whether or not there is an association between the tax rates of the highest income taxpayers and economic growth.” The report concludes:

    The results of the analysis suggest that changes over the past 65 years in the top marginal tax rate and the top capital gains tax rate do not appear correlated with economic growth. The reduction in the top tax rates appears to be uncorrelated with saving, investment, and productivity growth. The top tax rates appear to have little or no relation to the size of the economic pie. However, the top tax rate reductions appear to be associated with the increasing concentration of income at the top of the income distribution.

    Obviously, we agree that daylight is the best disinfectant.

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  15. Kevin Willis writes
    “Politicians don’t ignore science or data in either party, so long as the science and data supports the conclusions they’ve already reached. Politicians will tend to argue and dismiss any data that does not support their foregone conclusions, however, and this tends to be party neutral, with one party doing it more on a given topic or at a given time than the other.”

    It would be nice – convenient, even – if the parties were equally dismissive of data in pursuit of ideology. I won’t defend the dems, who certainly cherry-pick data to suit their needs. But to disparage them equally with the Repubs is false equivalence. Kurt Bills, opponent of Sen Klobuchar, said this week he flat out doesn’t believe in global warming. Perhaps he was using shorthand for anthropogenic global warming, but given the context of the quote, he indeed meant that he believed any data showing a change in global temperature is false. Anyone who’s looked at the data can see that global temperatures are rising. The consensus in the scientific community is that humans are major contributors to that effect. But for Bills, it isn’t even happening, data be damned.

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  16. @bsimon1970: “But to disparage them equally with the Repubs is false equivalence.”

    If true (and I’m not currently in the best position to say), that still fits in with my assertion that which one is more egregious depends on both the time and the topic. I would not argue that both parties are ever in exact parity, and in the case of global warming, it’s an excellent example of where the data being produced and observed fits will with the overall politics and ideology of the Democrats.

    In the case cited, it’s simply not necessary for Democrats to be dismissive of data in pursuit of ideology: the data neatly fits their viewpoint. If it did not, I suspect they would not abandon global warming as a political issue merely because of inconvenient facts. Of course, I’m of the opinion that it’s a bad idea to believe partisan politicians will ever be data driven. They are driven by their partisanship—the hammer always believes it’s a good time to drive a nail, so it’s up the voter to decide whether or not current times demand a hammer or a buzz saw.

    I certainly have good reason to suspect both parties are equally dismissive of facts when it comes to assessing the performance and usefulness of their own political solutions. Whether it’s the War in Iraq or the War on Drugs or the benefits of any particular piece of legislation, there is a natural human tendency to advocate for the team whose side you’ve been rooting for all along, even when the results are objectively questionable.

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  17. @Mike: “The point is that confiscatory tax rates necessarily slow growth (then we argue about what is confiscatory).
    This argument suffers from the same problem that Dave! pointed out — it doesn’t take into account any of the other myriad of things that affect growth.”

    Confiscatory tax rates would arguably be at levels that are absurdly high, without sufficient deductions to blunt their confiscatory nature. A flat tax of 90% would necessarily slow economic growth, if not reverse it indefinitely, no matter what other factors were involved.

    “However, the top tax rate reductions appear to be associated with the increasing concentration of income at the top of the income distribution.”

    I suspect this is correlative rather than causative. Higher taxes on the rich aren’t going to lower that concentration in a significant way or change the trend (though, clearly, they could easily bear the burden).

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  18. KW:

    Confiscatory tax rates would arguably be at levels that are absurdly high, without sufficient deductions to blunt their confiscatory nature.

    I will point out, as Mark did, that we had absurdly high top rates for income taxes during the 1950s and 1960s and still had good economic growth because of external factors.

    I suspect this is correlative rather than causative.

    That was Dave!’s point and something that cannot be disputed without experimentation.

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  19. This problem extended beyond the White House. After the imperial presidency of the Bush era, there was something more like parliamentary government in the first two years of Obama’s administration. The president proposed; Congress disposed. It was Nancy Pelosi and her cohorts who wrote the stimulus bill and made sure it was stuffed full of political pork. And it was the Democrats in Congress—led by Christopher Dodd and Barney Frank—who devised the 2,319-page Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank, for short), a near-perfect example of excessive complexity in regulation. The act requires that regulators create 243 rules, conduct 67 studies, and issue 22 periodic reports. It eliminates one regulator and creates two new ones.

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