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The Will to Believe

You would think that by this point, Andrew Sullivan would have learned his lesson: the Czar is behind it all. There's no "good conservative" Bush being supressed by evil subordinates. In this case, Sullivan argues that Bush should forget Social Security private accounts, at least for now, and put the priority on "real tax reform," which for Sullivan means "eliminating corporate loopholes" and "rewarding ordinary workers."

Sullivan draws an interesting parallel to the choice early in the Clinton administration about whether to put the priority on health care reform, which appealed to liberals, or welfare reform, which Clinton had promised to the New Democrats. The choice to lead with health care reform, he argues, cost Clinton the Congress in 1994 and much of the opportunity to do both. That remains a fascinating historical question, and I think Sullivan is probably right. (Although I didn't think so at the time, agreeing with Senator Moynihan that "we have a health care crisis; we don't have a welfare crisis," and that only secure health care would make it possible for familiies to leave welfare. UPDATE: Actually, I remembered that incorrectly -- Moynihan, like Sullivan, derided Clinton's health plan and said on Meet the Press that there was no health care crisis but there was a welfare crisis. At other points, however, he and others argued that improving health coverage for working poor families was a prerequisite for welfare reform, which was absolutely correct. Moynihan was gloriously, infuriatingly inconsistent.)

But the parallel to the situation now, in which he portrays Social Security reform as similar to health care (a sop to the party's ideological base) and tax reform as more broadly appealing across party lines, doesn't work for one simple reason: There's no reason to think that Bush's tax reform, if and when they get serious about it, will have anything to do with rewarding ordinary workers or eliminating loopholes or simplifying anything. They've had three chances to tinker with the tax code, and three times they've made it more complicated and more regressive. All the trial balloons they've floated so far, such as eliminating the deduction for state and local taxes or for employer-paid health insurance, would hurt ordinary workers, and further shift the burden of taxation onto labor income.

I agree with every bit of Sullivan's rationale for "real tax reform," and I agree that it is a "true conservative" policy. But how can he still even imagine that such a reform would come from this White House?

Posted by Mark Schmitt on January 5, 2005 | Permalink