Sen. Coburn Decides Dems Should Figure Out How To Pay For GOP Tax Cuts

December 09, 2010 12:25 pm ET — Matt Finkelstein

On the Senate floor last night, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) issued a challenge to anybody who believes tax cuts should be paid for. Acting like he'd found a hole in his political opponents' argument, Coburn demanded that "anyone who thinks we oughta pay for tax cuts oughta have to put up a list of programs that we oughta eliminate to pay for them."  

COBURN: I often hear from my colleagues on the other side we need to pay for the so-called Bush tax cuts. Which are really your tax cuts. The assumption is once the money comes to the government at a certain rate, it's always gonna come, and it's not yours, it's the government's. Let's grant that premise for a minute. Let's grant the premise that it's the government's money and not the individual's. I'd issue this challenge: anyone who thinks we oughta pay for tax cuts, oughta have to put up a list of programs that we oughta eliminate to pay for them. I put up every time when people are wanting to spend money a list of options that we can do to make it that we don't increase the very problem — hole that we're digging in.


Coburn is badly missing the point. Most Democrats don't want to extend tax cuts for the rich precisely because they don't want to cut vital programs to pay for it. There's no inconsistency there. Rather, the burden of offsetting the cost of tax cuts should fall on those who support them.

The problem is that Republicans believe tax cuts are "not a cost" because they pay for themselves. Despite strong evidence to the contrary, Republicans maintain that the Bush tax cuts actually increased revenues. But as National Review's Kevin Williamson has written, "It's a just-so story, a bedtime fairy tale Republicans tell themselves to shake off fear of the deficit bogeyman."

In reality, tax cuts that aren't paid for contribute to the deficit just as much as government spending (that's particularly true of tax cuts for the wealthy, who are more likely to save the money than put it back into the economy). So while Coburn is apparently feeling pretty clever, he's really directing his challenge to the wrong party.