President Barack Obama could have done two things that might have saved his Mother of All Budget Deals.
First, he could have embraced market-centered, consumer -focused reforms to Medicare. That was about as likely as him accepting an Obamacare rollback. Second, he could have agreed — as House Speaker John Boehner and Republicans suggested — to sharply reduce tax rates in return for fewer special tax deductions/breaks/loopholes/subsidies. Recall that is what his own debt commission recommended.
Instead, he apparently offered to keep top individual rates where they are, at 35 percent, in exchange for tax reform. Now that’s a big tax hike. But it’s also revealing. As a GOP source on the Hill put it:
Their fierce insistence on higher taxes is beyond bizarre. … The bipartisan consensus on tax reform (broader base & lower rates) was championed by President’s fiscal commission, and yet now is being rebuked by the President. Lowering top rates that would help make America more competitive was too large a leap for a true class warrior.
Obama agrees with the left-of-center consensus that America is dramatically undertaxed. Those tax rates from his fiscal commission would have resulted in revenue higher than the historical 18-19 percent of GDP, as seen in this chart:
But 21 percent of GDP — the highest in U.S. history — isn’t nearly enough for the Obamacrats. Even if Obamacare is successful in bringing down health costs, top liberal policy wonks think far more revenue will be needed to deal with an aging America. First, this budget from the Economic Policy Institute. It sees revenue at 24.1 percent of GDP, which still leaves a huge budget gap:
Then there is this plan from the George Soros-backed Center for American Progress, which operates as the White House’s outside think tank. It sees revenue at 23.8 percent of GDP, even adding a carbon tax and transaction tax into the mix.
In short, Obama sees a need for a permanently bigger government and a lot more tax revenue to fund it. Had Obama agreed with his own debt commission and Republicans, a big agreement was possible. Or he could have proposed real reforms to entitlements. But he declined and there wasn’t a mega-deal. Don’t blame Boehner for that.