Nothing off the table

Two phrases that I loathe in politics are “DOA — dead on arrival” and “off the table.” Both have been used frequently to convey proposals and ideas that supposedly have no chance of passage by Congress or shouldn’t be discussed in the first place. 

If Congress and the administration are going to have an “adult” conversation (another phrase that is already hackneyed!), the economic crisis we face demands we recognize that very little is dead and nearly everything is on the table.


In the past week, we have had the “Golf Summit”; we have seen the AARP discuss changes to Social Security benefits; we have seen 33 Republican senators vote for a “revenue enhancement” in the form of taking on a $6 billion tax break for the ethanol industry. In short, maybe we are making some progress, given the severity of the problems we face as a nation.

We will not come close to solving the immediate economic problems of lost jobs, foreclosed homes and a stalled middle class, nor the longer-term problem of borrowing 40 percent of our federal budget, unless our leaders stop dropping rhetorical bombs.

For Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBoehner reveals portrait done by George W. Bush Meadows to be replaced by Biggs as Freedom Caucus leader Scaramucci compares Trump to Jonestown cult leader: 'It's like a hostage crisis inside the White House' MORE (R-Ohio) to maintain that taxes and revenues are “off the table” and Democrats to state that the Ryan budget ideas are “DOA” sends the wrong message to the American people and to businesses that are looking for real progress from Washington.

Common sense should dictate that the deficit commission is a pretty good starting point. Common sense should dictate that entitlements, defense and social programs are all on the table.

Common sense and simple math should dictate that the revenue side of the ledger has to be a part of fixing our problems. Republican presidents have recognized that tax cuts are not sacrosanct. After all, Reagan and Bush I raised taxes, as well as cut them.

But the most telling example of the political and economic pragmatism of Ronald Reagan was as governor of California, when he faced the budget crisis of 1967.

Those, like my friend Grover Norquist, who cite Reagan’s words with their tax-cut pledges, don’t pay much attention to his deeds. According to Lou Cannon, Reagan increased the sales tax from three cents to five and increased both corporate and inheritance taxes up to 6 percent. In addition to raising liquor and cigarette taxes, Reagan raised the income tax on high earners from 7 percent to 10. All in all, taxes were raised by $1 billion, equivalent to $5.5 billion in 2006, probably over $6 billion in today’s dollars.

If Reagan can do it, John Boehner and today’s Republicans can do it. Pragmatic government should not end with the Tea Party, especially at a time when the wealthy have become the super-wealthy.

A recent report in The Washington Post (“Rich Pull Away From the Rest of America,” June 19) delineates the disturbing trend toward economic inequality, with 90 percent of Americans seeing their incomes flat or declining over the last 40 years while the richest have added to their wealth by as much as 385 percent.

Taxes should certainly be on the table for the top 1 percent of Americans (about 1.5 million of them). With sacrifices being made across the board, more belt-tightening by an already hard-hit middle class and agreement on the necessity of entitlement reform, surely taxes and revenue should be a part of balanced reform. Now, more than ever, we should get out of our ideological straitjackets and use all means to fix the problem. Maybe we can start by ridding ourselves of the “DOA” and “off the table” proclamations.

Fenn is a Democratic strategist.