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How to 'reduce revenue'


Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), perhaps best known for apologizing to BP after the oil spill crisis in the Gulf of Mexico, talked to msnbc's Martin Bashir yesterday, and said something that stood out for me.

The two were discussing Republican efforts to avoid cuts to the Pentagon budget, and the host suggested slight taxes increases on the wealthy might be preferable to cuts to food stamps for low-income families.

Barton responded, "When you raise taxes, you generate less revenue and less economic growth."

I've heard this before from congressional Republicans, but it always impresses me. The latter half is easy enough to understand: GOP officials believe tax increases necessarily slow the economy. That's not true, and there's ample evidence to the contrary -- Reagan and Clinton both saw economic growth soar after signing tax increases -- but I can at least understand the idea behind the error.

But I'm struck by the notion that taxes increase "generate less revenue." In other words, in Joe Barton's mind, when the government takes in more money, it takes in less money.

For generations, whenever U.S. policymakers have tackled debt reduction, they've accepted the premise that there would have to be some combination of tax increases and spending reductions, and fought over the ratio of one to the other. But Barton's silly argument helps explain why compromise -- a word Republicans no longer understand -- is literally impossible: we've reached the point at which GOP policymakers chose to believe that tax cuts cost literally nothing and tax increases bring in less revenue.

Budget talks will fail for the indefinite future until Americans elect lawmakers who are better at arithmetic.