House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) sent a memo to all House Republicans today, telling them what a great job they’re doing. Of particular interest, though, was the Speaker arguing how “noble” he and his party are for trying to balance the budget. From the memo:
The book Congressman Lincoln by Chris DeRose, which I recently read, includes a chapter focused on Abraham Lincoln’s efforts to help craft a new national agenda. At one point in the book, young Lincoln warns that government debt is “growing with a rapidity fearful to contemplate.”
“[Government debt] is a system not only ruinous while it lasts, but one that must soon fail and leave us destitute,” Lincoln warns his countrymen in Congressman Lincoln. “An individual who undertakes to live by borrowing, soon finds his original means devoured by interest, and next no one left to borrow from – so must it be with a government.”
Lincoln’s words ring true today, perhaps to a degree greater than ever before.
Lincoln, however, while warning of debt, also said that the debt had been created by the unwillingness to consider new revenue.
“By this means a new national debt has been created, and is still growing on us with a rapidity fearful to contemplate – a rapidity only reasonably to be expected in time of war. This state of things has been produced by a prevailing unwillingness either to increase the tariff or resort to direct taxation. But the one or the other must come,” Lincoln wrote in the Whig Circular in 1843.
Oh how I love this story.
Lincoln, who saw great value in a strong federal government, supported public investments in infrastructure, and increased taxes to pay for the Civil War, was concerned about government debt. The historical context matters – Lincoln warned of lost creditors, while in contemporary times, investors are eager to loan the United States money – but it would appear the legendary leader believed in fiscal responsibility.
But Boehner has no use for what Lincoln actually said and did. While today’s House Speaker refuses to consider asking any American to pay so much as a penny in additional taxes, Lincoln saw increases in taxes or tariffs as an undeniable way of responsibly paying our debts. Indeed, he blamed federal debts on “a prevailing unwillingness [to] resort to direct taxation.”
And to borrow a phrase, Lincoln’s words ring true today, perhaps to a degree greater than ever before.
I’d just add, by the way, that the Speaker’s credibility on the issue is genuinely laughable. Boehner today writes, “There should be no doubt that our purpose in calling for a balanced budget is a noble one, and the right one.” This is the same Boehner who approved George W. Bush’s tax cuts without paying for them, put the price of two wars on the national charge card for future generations to worry about, supported Medicare expansion through deficit financing, and added the costs of a Wall Street bailout to the national debt.
Now this same guy wants to talk about the nobility of his fiscal agenda? While taking Lincoln out of context? And while pretending his preferred budget plan isn’t filled with magic asterisks?
C’mon, Mr. Speaker. You can do better than this.
Update: Jay Bookman emails to let me know the story gets even better. In that same piece, Lincoln goes on to endorse a tariff rather than a direct or property tax to raise revenue, because – get this – through a tariff, “the burthen of revenue falls almost entirely on the wealthy and luxurious few, while the substantial and laboring many … go entirely free.”
So, by 2013 standards, Lincoln is a success-hating RINO, right?