The Washington Post celebrates the newest gang of politicians posing as "adults in the room," including Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss who says he's so committed to deficit reduction that everything is on the table, including taxes:
"Everything is on the table," Chambliss said. "For a Republican to put revenues on the table is significant. For a Democrat to put entitlements on the table is significant. But Mark and I believe and know in our hearts that the only way we're going to solve this problem is to have a dialogue about these issues."
A statement like that is almost enough to get your heart all aflutter. A conservative admitting that revenue is just as important as spending when you're trying to balance a budget? Sweet Jesus, have they finally seen the light? Unfortunately not. Turns out, Chambliss was just kidding. Everything isn't on the table after all:
"None of us have ever voted for a tax increase, and I don't intend to," Chambliss said Monday. But the tax system is "way out of kilter," producing $1.1 trillion in revenue in 2009 while giving away $1.6 trillion in deductions and other breaks, he added. "We can do it in a fair and reasonable way and . . . actually lower rates and at the same time raise revenues."
Okay, so Chambliss might support corporate tax reform that could ultimately net a bit more revenue by simplifying the tax code. Great. But he's only going to do it if he thinks he can sell it as a tax decrease ("actually lower rates"). Proposing to raise revenues by lowering rates isn't what I'd call an "adult conversation." In theory, it's possible, but once you start promising Grover Norquist that you won't raise taxes and that what you're really doing is lowering rates, you're going to find it nearly impossible to generate any meaningful additional revenue.
More importantly, if you're talking about deficit reduction, corporate tax reform isn't where the money is. At least two-thirds of the deficits under Bush were a direct result of his tax cuts. Unless you're willing to cut spending by the same amount that Bush cut taxes, the only way we can get back to where things were under President Clinton is by getting rid of the Bush tax cuts entirely, for everyone.
If Saxby Chambliss really wants to prove he's up for an adult conversation, he needs to put those Bush tax cuts on the table. They are the elephant in the room. At the very least, we need to get rid of the tax cuts for the wealthy, but we probably need to get rid of the tax cuts altogether. And it's impossible to have any serious conversation about the deficit without putting them on the table. And Saxby Chambliss definitely is not serious, at least not yet.