Commentary: Oops is not a strategy

By John Krull 

INDIANAPOLIS – The tax “reform” measure conjured up by Republicans in the U.S. Senate took a tumble.

A $1 trillion tumble.

John Krull, publisher,

That’s how much an independent analysis said the bill would add to the deficit if it becomes law. That’s even if the measure achieves the rosy-scenario growth targets its GOP backers promise.


Republicans expressed surprise at the $1 trillion miscalculation – which, in itself, was shocking, because they’d taken so many precautions against making mistakes. Given that they have rushed their plan through with few, if any public hearings, not taken any expert testimony, not subjected it to serious scrutiny by economists and plotted in secret, how could they possibly have missed anything?

Even something as insignificant as a $1 trillion deficit.

A series of wins on procedural votes had led the GOP bigwigs to believe they were on their way to victory, their first significant one of this era in which they control the White House and both chambers of Congress.

But, just as they were getting ready to pop the corks on celebratory bottles of champagne, the unanticipated $1 trillion shortfall showed up like an uninvited party guest.

Republicans – desperate to deliver a tax cut to the mega-wealthy donor class that pays for those champagne bottles and terrified they’ll face primary challenges if they don’t – were scrambling to find both votes to pass the measure and money to cover the shortfall.

This is what happens when magic and myth substitute for logic and math.

The magic part is the supply-side faith that cutting taxes, particularly on the wealthy, somehow miraculously will result in more revenue for government. These supposed conservatives, who in other areas pride themselves on their hard-headed realism, seem to believe self-government is a mystical realm, the only human endeavor in existence in which free lunches do exist.

In this magical world, two plus two can equal three, five, 22 or, apparently, even X plus or minus $1 trillion.

This faith in magical calculations is enhanced by an equally fervent belief in the myth of the saintly plutocrat.

In the eyes of these supposed conservatives, business is benevolence. Putting more money in the hands of the uber-wealthy – or the “job creators,” as Republicans seeking campaign contributions love to flatter the donor class – means that everyone benefits. The rewards “trickle down,” because business owners selflessly invest their cash in the welfare of their employees, rather than pocketing themselves.


Most truly hard-headed economic analysis, in fact, shows the opposite – namely, that putting more cash in the hands of the folks at the bottom and middle of the economic ladder aids those at every rung.

When those who are poor or have middling incomes have more money, they spend it on the goods and services that drive the economy. The benefits don’t trickle down. Instead, they flow in every direction.

This is because the people who are buying these things aren’t doing so selflessly. They’re purchasing these products and services because they need to, because doing so enhances their lifestyles or even because they have seen something they want.

 Building a tax structure that encourages such behavior involves what the founders of this country would have called “enlightened self-interest.”

The plan the Republican senators have come up with is heavy on the self-interest part and skips over the enlightened piece altogether.

America’s founders, of course, were products of the enlightenment. They placed their faith in logic and math, not magic and myth.

The Republican leaders swear now that they have the votes to pass their measure, which hadn’t even been drafted formally when they made the announcement that it would become law. It could be true. Maybe they count votes better than they do dollars.

In Walt Disney’s world, a dream is a wish the heart makes.

With the current Republican leadership in Washington, it also may be the closest thing we’ll see to a plan for governing America.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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