The Problem With Taxes As an Issue

My favorite part of the Democratic CNN/YouTube debate was the guitar-playing anti-tax guy. He was playing my song.

I think taxes should be a big issue in the next campaign. I believe we pay too many taxes to fund too much wasteful government. I think it is an issue that Republicans should unify over. I think people should be taking to the streets to protest outrageous tax rates.

Unfortunately, I am in the distinct minority. Taxes fall way down on the list of the most important issues in most polls. There are two reasons for this fact. First, most Americans don’t pay much income tax. Sure, they pay payroll taxes to fund Social Security and Medicare. But they don’t pay income tax.

Second, the Republicans have done a pretty good job of cutting taxes over the last 10 years. Taxes aren’t a big issue because of the success of the GOP in achieving its agenda.

Republicans have taken to talking about tax simplification as the next big issue. The Fair Tax. The Flat Tax. The VAT tax. All of these proposals are efforts to put the tax issue back on the table. But none of them is catching fire.

It will take the Democrats to put taxes back on the table as a big issue.

And they are obliging. They have proposals to raise taxes on tobacco to pay for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program and to raise taxes on hedge-funders and on rich people. They raised taxes as part of the Farm Bill, and almost any other bill that is making its way through the Congress has a revenue component.

Lloyd Doggett summed it up when he said that the Democrats are desperate to find more tax revenue. Why do they need the money? To pay for bigger government.

This is why the Republicans are going to have to personalize this tax debate. They need to talk about the marriage penalty, the death tax, taxes on savings and investment. This can’t just be an argument about numbers and policy.  .

Getting the right message is critically important to winning this debate. And if we don’t win the debate, we may all get stuck with the increased taxes and bigger government that come from a Democratic-controlled Congress.