The Republican Nyet

June 24, 1993

Republican senators seem to have forgotten a harsh lesson George Bush learned as he went plunging to defeat: You can't mindlessly, endlessly chant "No New Taxes" and get away with it. Not if you are going to play any substantive role in a government led by Democrats. Not if you are going to convince savvy voters that you are candid and anti-gridlock. Not if you ever hope to lift the taint of smoke and mirrors from the Grand Old Party.

Republicans have fallen into the same trap that hobbled the Russians at the outset of the Cold War. Nyet to a rise in income taxes for the rich. Nyet to any kind of energy tax. Nyet to higher taxes on wealthy recipients of Social Security benefits. Nyet, Nyet, Nyet. And all the while pretending that they can achieve meaningful restraint on the huge deficits associated with the Reagan-Bush era solely by cutting government spending.

Republican leader Bob Dole let the cat out of the bag Sunday when he said he personally could go along with the Clinton-proposed increase to 36 percent from 31 percent in income taxes on the affluent. This was very much in the spirit of what Deputy Budget Director Alice M. Rivlin calls "the old Bob Dole" -- the fellow who defied the anti-tax mania of his own Republican presidents in a vain effort to stop the tripling of the national debt.

But Senator Dole was taken to the woodshed in short order for talking truth. "There will be no tax increase, period, in our alternative," intoned Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas. And by the time Senate debate on the $500 billion Democratic package of tax increases and spending cuts began yesterday, what Ms. Rivlin calls "the new Bob Dole" had emerged -- the toe-the-party-line Senate leader joining the chorus against "No New Taxes."

True enough, the way the Clinton White House and the congressional Democratic leadership has excluded GOP input in budget deliberations is outrageous. Democrats can pass their economic plan without a single Republican vote if they can keep their feuding factions in line. But what have they gained by such tactics? The privilege of taking full blame for anything that goes wrong in a shaky economy. The crow-eating necessity later on of wooing Republican votes for health care and welfare reforms as well as a Mexican trade treaty that divides their party.

Given a choice between the Democratic concoction and a GOP response aimed at embarrassing up-or-down votes on taxes, we prefer the former. It achieves some balance between restoring the government's battered revenue base and reducing spending on Medicare and other entitlements.

Some Democrats may indeed suffer at the polls for voting for new taxes. But at least their party is making a stab at governing, which is more than the Republicans can say.

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