Fiscal policy used to be a lot more simple in this country – and a lot less partisan.

Yes, Republicans were always the bigger fans of cutting spending and cutting taxes while Democrats generally pushed for more spending; that basic dynamic hasn’t changed. Still, it wasn’t always quite as sharply defined as it is today. Politicians of every stripe loved to take credit for cutting taxes whenever they could, just as they liked to take credit for popular spending whenever possible.

While Republicans pushed for tax cuts more forcefully than Democrats, those proposals often got bipartisan support. Take, for instance, President George W. Bush’s tax cuts, parts of which Democrats voted for in both the House and the Senate.

Moreover, when President Barack Obama took office, he didn’t seek to completely undo the Bush tax cuts – in fact, they were partially extended. Here in Maine, when then-Gov. Paul LePage and Republicans pushed through sweeping income tax cuts as part of the budget, they received even greater bipartisan support. Then-House Democratic leader Emily Cain even famously admitted that her caucus hated those tax cuts.

Today it seems that Democrats hate all tax cuts, no matter what.

There used to be a further bipartisan consensus that tax increases were only  to be even considered in the face of enormous fiscal challenges. Today, though, we see a whole host of proposals from Democrats in the Maine Legislature to raise taxes – even though they’re completely unnecessary.


Fortunately, Gov. Mills isn’t rushing to embrace any of those radical proposals to raise taxes, but she isn’t exactly cutting taxes, either. Faced with a budget surplus of almost $300 million – twice the cost of the tax cuts passed by Republicans in 2011 – Mills can’t find a single dime in her supplemental budget proposal for tax relief. This continues a trend that Mills has staunchly followed throughout her time in office.

Regardless of the numbers, she’s completely unwilling to consider any sort of broad-based tax relief. In years gone by, Democratic governors and presidents alike used to use the occasional tax cut as a way to appeal to fiscal conservatives inside and outside their own party. John F. Kennedy, for instance, proposed sweeping tax cuts that were signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson, and they weren’t geared toward the lower-income tax brackets, either – the wealthiest taxpayers saw the largest cuts.

That’s a stark cry from the position of today’s Democrats, both here in Maine and nationally, who are generally unwilling to consider any sort of tax relief at all. Indeed, regardless of whether it’s reflective of reality, they tend to describe any tax cuts as tax cuts for the rich. Republicans could propose an income tax cut designed specifically to only help those in the lower tax brackets and Democrats would still end up it describing that way. It’s hard to imagine many, if any, elected Democrats in the Maine Legislature or in the U.S. Congress voting for the Kennedy tax cuts today, let alone championing them. These days there’s hardly any room for any sort of fiscal conservatives in the Democratic Party, which has made it clear that it is the party of runaway spending, whether they call themselves moderate or not.

This trend is reflected not only in Mills’ supplemental budget proposal here in Maine, but also in the debt-ceiling debate in Washington. President Biden, who campaigned as a moderate who could bring back bipartisanship (just like Mills did), wasted months refusing to even negotiate with Republicans. Biden wouldn’t consider any spending cuts or tax cuts, instead clinging to the desperate idea that he could simply divide and conquer the opposition. That stubbornness and unwillingness to negotiate on the part of Mills and Biden hasn’t earned them any blowback; instead, they’ve both united the party behind their strategy. In both Augusta and Washington, Republicans have made proposals that would be ambitious even if they had full control.

In Maine, they’ve floated $400 million in income tax cuts. In Washington, they’ve offered sweeping cuts to federal spending. In both cases, these proposals should be seen as starting points to negotiations, rather than a final offer – and if Mills or Biden were really interested in bipartisanship, that’s how they’d be treating them. Instead, they seem to be completely ignoring them, forging ahead with their own plans.

While that may work here in Maine for Democrats, it would be disastrous at a federal level, leading to a national default. Hopefully, at both levels, they find some common sense and common ground instead.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:
Twitter: @jimfossel

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