During an appearance yesterday on the Illinois GOP Network's Blog Talk Radio show, Republican congressional challenger Steve Greenberg used a faulty GOP talking point to differentiate himself from 8th District Rep. Melissa Bean. He asserted that Democrats "just pushed through the largest tax increase in the history of this country, to the tune of over $600 billion," adding that Bean "drove the getaway car with Nancy Pelosi and Charlie Rangel in the back while the people’s money was in the trunk." Take a listen as he responds to a question from IL GOP Network founder Mark Johnson:
Greenberg appears to be referring to the FY 2009 budget approved by the U.S. House along partisan lines last week. And he's not alone in his hyperbole; the day after the bill was approved, Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA) accused Democrats of "the largest tax increase in the history of this Congress, which means in the history of this nation, which means in the history of the world." Rep. Adam Putnam (R-FL) also asserted that the budget "contains the single largest tax hike in American history."
So how did Greenberg, Lungren, and Putnam all arrive at this extraordinary claim?
Essentially, the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts pushed by a Republican-controlled Congress and signed into law by President Bush included a provision sunsetting the cuts on December 31, 2010. Unless future Congresses extended them, the tax rates would return to their previous levels. It's important to remember that the sunset provision allowed the GOP leadership to obscure the real cost of the cuts and therefore enlist more legislative support, as The Washington Post reported on May 24, 2003:
Indeed, by "sunsetting" all the tax cuts well before the bill's official 2013 expiration date, congressional tax writers took a measure that otherwise would have cost the Treasury more than $800 billion over the next decade and crammed it into a $350 billion price tag that could garner just enough support to pass the Senate.
While Democrats have said they will extend the tax cuts that benefit the middle class in their newest budget, they decided not to re-up the majority of Bush's cuts targeted at the country's wealthiest residents. And for good reason: according to the Center for American Progress (pdf), the hugely regressive cuts will have cost the U.S. $2 trillion by 2010 and contributed to our massive deficit.
But more to the point, letting legislation written by your opponents expire is not the same as deliberately raising taxes. It's intellectually dishonest to conflate the two. If Republicans were so worried about future "tax increases," they should have convinced more legislators to make those cuts permanent during Bush's first term.