The Republican obsession with never appearing to raise taxes ever leads to some pretty strange policy choices.
Kevin Drum made a great point the other day about Congresses ongoing attempt to fund the national Highway Trust Fund. Congress has been unable to find an adequate way to fund the national fund which pays for the nations highways. It normally is funded by national tax on every gallon of gas sold, but more efficient cars and inflation have meant that this revenue stream has gotten smaller and smaller over the years. In fact the fund is projected to go bankrupt in a few months.
There is of course a pretty easy solution to this problem, just find a way to provide a steady stream of funding for highway and transit problems, something that both Democrats and Republicans clearly want to fund overall, by raising a the gas tax or just indexing it to inflation.
But as Drum points out even a common sense solution like indexing the gas tax, or just making it a percentage of purchases rather than a tax based on gallons of fuel, would violate the Republicans’ quasi-religious devotion to never appearing to raise taxes ever.
The Hill did a good job summing up where the highways dollars are going to come instead:
….The proposal calls for generating $16.3 billion from interest rate changes, $9 billion from sales of reserved oil, $4 billion from customs fees, $3.5 billion from the TSA fees and $1.9 billion from extending guarantees on mortgage-backed securities that had been scheduled to start declining in 2021. Other funding sources in the measure include approximately $7.7 billion in tax compliance measures.
As Drum points out this results really weird policy choices:
I guess “fees” don’t count as taxes? And apparently neither do “tax compliance measures”—though I’ve certainly heard Republicans claim in the past that efforts to get rich people to actually pay their taxes were little more than a stealth tax increase.
Tomayto, tomahto. Best not to be too fastidious about these things. For example, “tax compliance measures” seems to include a provision that blocks Social Security payments to individuals with felony warrants. That’s a tax compliance measure? Sure, I guess. Whatever.
Amusingly, the money from customs fees comes from indexing them for inflation. And that’s OK with Mitch McConnell. But indexing the gasoline tax to inflation? That’s a tax increase. Absolutely out of the question.
These sorts of symmetrical games may be fun enough to laugh at, but at the end of the day they make governing really hard. Rather than judging spending and taxes on the policy merits Republicans are forced to judge them on how they measure up to subjective “pledges.” In addition they as a political party give away enormous power to unelected movement conservative figures that never have to face the wrath of voters mad that their bridges are literally falling apart.
This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense of course, but sadly it’s the state of the modern Republican Party.
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