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The "Balanced Approach" is a Myth

By Nick Gillespie, Hit & Run - November 29, 2012

For a long time now, President Obama has said that he backs a "balanced approach" to getting the nation's fiscal house in order. That is, the president says he wants to raise some taxes and cut some spending in order to reduce public debt - which stands at more than 100 percent of total economic activity (GDP).

So how come all he talks about is hiking taxes? Over at the White House website, what's front and center is a confusing pitch about "Extending Middle-Class Tax Cuts," which is in fact a way of saying that the president wants to see taxes on the wealthiest Americans rise back to the levels they were at circa 2000.

In September, Obama told Face the Nation:

If we go back to the tax rates for folks making more than $250,000 a year, back to the rates that we had under Bill Clinton...we can close the deficit, stabilize the economy, keep taxes on middle class families low, [and] provide the certainty that I think all of us would be looking for.

At the same time, as CBS News put it, Obama's "plan for reducing the deficit would cut $2.50 in spending allowances for every $1 of increased tax revenue."

OK, then.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that hiking tax rates on those making $200,000 (individuals) or $250,000 (households) back to Clinton-era levels would yield about $42 billion in 2013. So what are the specific $105 billion in cuts ($42 billion x 2.5) that Obama will make?

That's not a complicated question, is it? But good luck finding any specifics at the White House website or in past proclamations by the president and his spokesmen. The U.S. will likely spend about $3.8 trillion in 2013, which means cutting $105 billion amounts to a trim of less than 3 percent. So we're not talking large cuts by any measure. If Obama can't come up with what amounts to pocket change in the federal budget, why should anyone take him seriously about pursuing a "balanced approach"?

Nick Gillespie is the editor in chief of Reason.com and Reason TV and the co-author of The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong With America, just out in paperback.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time.

| 11.29.12 @ 1:06PM |#

There's a typo on that chart. I don't think its "Revenue Saved"; shouldn't that be "Revenue Seized"?

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Juice| 11.29.12 @ 1:09PM |#

The deficit is $1 trillion dollars so we'll increase revenue by $0.042 trillion and cut spending by $0.105 trillion. Deficit solved.

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mr simple| 11.29.12 @ 1:48PM |#

It amazes me that people can't handle this simple math.

"We're losing $950B!" "That's over ten years; our deficit last year was $1.3T." "Uh, Fair Share!"

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Sevo| 11.29.12 @ 1:10PM |#

"That's not a complicated question, is it?"

You can bet the answer will be complicated in the extreme. Maybe complicated enough to hide the fact that there will be zero cuts in spending.

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That's not a complicated question, is it? But good luck finding any specifics at the White House website or in past proclamations by the president and his spokesmen.

That's why the Repubs need to sit on their hands and force the Dems to propose (and own) spending cuts. The Dems are trying to set up a dynamic where they only propose (popular!) tax hikes on "Teh Rich", and Repubs propose (unpopular!) spending cuts. The Repubs are easily stupid enough to fall for it, of course, when all they have to do is . . . nothing.

"You won, we get it. As the winners, you get to go first. We will debate and negotiate the tax and spending bill that you draft and submit to Congress. We are not interested in wasting time negotiating by press release. Submit a bill, and we'll talk."

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robc| 11.29.12 @ 1:12PM |#

I also think the GOP needs to play hardball and make the repeal of the Bush tax cuts an all-or-nothing issue.

Put up a bill to make them permanent and let them expire if it doesnt pass.

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The GOP will not "play hardball". They will do NOTHING. You are essentially stating a complete pipe dream of what you wish they would do, but never will. You're engaging in a fantasy. This needs to stop. Why anyone, ever, would put even the tiniest faith in one TEAM's capacity--nay, even willingness--to do ANYTHING astounds me.

Get real, rob. No offence, but you need to wake up and realize that absolutely nothing is going to get done. It will require serious violence for that.

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Belgian| 11.29.12 @ 1:50PM |#

I take offense to your spelling "offense" like some kind of limey douche.

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robc| 11.29.12 @ 1:58PM |#

Actually, I have no faith they will do this at all.

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The Dems let the Bush tax cuts expire. They then reintroduce them, except for no cuts for $250k+. Can the GOP vote down a massive middle-class tax cut?

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Randian| 11.29.12 @ 1:55PM |#

Oh Christ, if we're all that stupid, then I say we start lighting people on fire.

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Looking at the results of the last election, I'd say the answer to that is "yes" on the fire.

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T| 11.29.12 @ 2:20PM |#

I got a lighter and some polystyrene. Somebody bring a bucket and some gasoline.

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"We wanted to continue to keep taxes low on the middle class, but the Republicans are too wedded to the rich to help ordinary people."

James Carville would run that sucker into the ground in 2014.

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Randian| 11.29.12 @ 3:03PM |#

Well, whatever, if people are stupid enough and want to believe that, then go on and let them.

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LibertyMark| 11.29.12 @ 1:11PM |#

Why doesn't anyone call out the mainstream press on these simple questions?

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Hyperion| 11.29.12 @ 1:18PM |#

Who is going to call them out? The sheeple who elected all of these damn fools who created this situation in the first place? They are too busy watching dancing with the stars.

The fools that were elected? They are the ones telling the press what to day, or not to say.

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andarm16| 11.29.12 @ 3:37PM |#

Because the mainstream press, the elected politicians, and their academic sycophants have made themselves the arbitrators of "seriousness" in this country. If you even attempt to suggest something even remotely outside this box, you will be called a radical. If you manage to get a large following while spewing radical "lies", you will have fact checkers in the press looking over your entire life, all the way back to grade school. They will find something, that they can twist into you either being a racist, or a corporate stooge.

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Drake| 11.29.12 @ 1:11PM |#

The Democrats are banking on the fact that most Americans don't know what a "Trillion" actually means.

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Hyperion| 11.29.12 @ 1:22PM |#

Well, that's a winning bet. Half of Americans couldn't even name one federal representative from their state, or tell you..., ok, just say they are ignorant of most things except that they get free stuff from the government and they want more, which means vote for the democrat, what was his name?

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Certified Public Asskicker| 11.29.12 @ 1:30PM |#

"Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that."

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Yeah cuz we should blame the dumb people for this mess....not the smart ones who should know better.

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Certified Public Asskicker| 11.29.12 @ 2:11PM |#

I was commenting on most Americans don't know what a "Trillion" actually means.

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Bardas Phocas| 11.29.12 @ 1:48PM |#

A can of generic beans in ten years?

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British or American?

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andarm16| 11.29.12 @ 3:49PM |#

If the "serious" politicians even remotely understood that there was a long scale and a short scale, media matters (and so called reasonable Republicans) would be screaming about how Republicans were exaggerating the debt a million fold.

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DrAwkward| 11.29.12 @ 3:20PM |#

I don't think anyone can conceive of a Trillion of anything. The average adult human brain has about 100 billion neurons. That's about enough to fool us into believing we understand trillions, not enough to actually grasp such astronomical numbers.

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Hyperion| 11.29.12 @ 1:12PM |#

The "Balanced Approach" is Bunk: All Tax Hikes, No Spending Cuts

As it shall remain until the very end. Our gluttonous overbloated government will never cut spending, which is why we can be assured of it's eventual demise.

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iggy| 11.29.12 @ 1:13PM |#

How can they just assume that between 2014 and 2015 that those tax revenues will jump 25 billion dollars? And why is there a drop in revenue between 2013 and 2014? The CBO really is just random guesswork, isn't it?

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No. It's carefully engineered to give the impression it's masters want you to have. The rosy assumptions of their predictions aren't accidental.

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Stupid apostrophe!

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They will do nothing. Nothing will happen. Since the world is currently functioning and people aren't rioting in the streets, everything--to a politician, that is--is fine. People get elected; they have power; the world goes on. "Doing something" about the fiscal situation could jeopardize that. Why would they ever do that? The logical (from a political standpoint) thing here is inertia; resist changing course at all, because right now, they've been elected. They have what they want. Why would they change a thing? It's not like they feel any pain or will feel any pain.

I don't understand why people don't seem to understand this. There is ZERO impetus for them to "fix" anything. NONE.

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Hyperion| 11.29.12 @ 1:24PM |#

There is ZERO impetus for them to "fix" anything. NONE.

That, and they couldn't fix it if they wanted to, because fixing things is not their expertise, lying to getting elected is.

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In an article I posted in the MLs earlier in the week, after the Brits imposed a 50% tax on million-pound-per-year incomes, the number of people reporting incomes at that level dropped from 16000, to 6000 and has only risen (after 2 years) to 10000. Even Labour is admitting that the tax hike cost them 7B pounds per year. The problem with taxing the rich (besides the fact that there just aren't enough of them) is that they can afford to leave, hide their money, or defer their income. This would seem to me to indicate that the peak of the Laffer curve is below 50%.

I just don't understand why it is so difficult for people to understand 20% of GDP is the absolute cap on revenue for the federal government, and that 17% is probably the highest sustainable amount. If it were me, and I were the GOP, I'd be shouting this from the rooftops and proposing a 17% budget.

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In fact, on reflection, I would go further. I would be right out front with the fact that this will take 7% away from year-over-year GDP, so if our "recession" is less than 7%, we're growing the private sector in meaningful way. (Also, if you committed to 17% budgets, the next budget would probably be smaller.)

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Barack Obama lied about cutting spending.

Barack Obama lied about leaving Afghanistan.

Barack Obama lied about leaving medical marijuana dispensaries alone.

Barack Obama is a liar.

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sarcasmic| 11.29.12 @ 1:35PM |#

Yeah, but he's black.

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Certified Public Asskicker| 11.29.12 @ 1:41PM |#

On a similar note, Donnell Rawlings was on the trashy morning show I listen to as I drive to work.

Listening to him talk politics made me want to wreck my car. He loves Obama because he looks like him and has no reason whatsoever to actually investigate his policy views.

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sarcasmic| 11.29.12 @ 1:46PM |#

Racist.

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Libertymike| 11.29.12 @ 1:50PM |#

95% - 98% of black folk voted for the black man.

Any person who argues that skin color was not a factor in black people voting for Obama really brings the stooooopid.

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sarcasmic| 11.29.12 @ 1:52PM |#

Racist.

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Calidissident| 11.29.12 @ 2:00PM |#

It was 93% in this election. Which isn't much higher than Kerry or Gore got. The reason most blacks vote for Obama is the D next to his name on the ballot, not his skin color

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Libertymike| 11.29.12 @ 3:01PM |#

So, you have proof that "the reason most blacks vote for Obama is the D next to his name on the ballot, not his skin color"?

So, do you think that skin color was not a factor for black folks in deciding for whom to vote?

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Certified Public Asskicker| 11.29.12 @ 1:53PM |#

He loves Obama because he looks like him and has no reason whatsoever to actually investigate his policy views he is just so fucking cool.

My apologies.

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Libertymike| 11.29.12 @ 1:46PM |#

He's one mendacious mongrel.

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sarcasmic| 11.29.12 @ 1:54PM |#

The use of the word "mongrel" is obviously racist.

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LTC(ret) John| 11.29.12 @ 2:01PM |#

And a "dog whistle" to boot!

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Libertymike| 11.29.12 @ 2:55PM |#

Yeah, and the criticism leveled at Susan Rice is racist and sexist.

If one is black, or partially black, one is not thereby innoculated from criticism.

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Jordan| 11.29.12 @ 1:47PM |#

He lied about closing Gitmo.

He lied about CIA secret prisons.

He lied about transparency.

He lied about the attack in Benghazi.

Hmm, this could go on forever. Better stop now.

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Auric Demonocles| 11.29.12 @ 2:09PM |#

He lied about using public campaign financing, before he was even elected.

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I'm going to take him at his word that he personally approves every drone strike against "terrorists."

That way, every wedding party, every entire family, every child murdered by his decisions, their blood is directly on his hands.

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robc| 11.29.12 @ 1:12PM |#

I also think the GOP needs to play hardball and make the repeal of the Bush tax cuts an all-or-nothing issue.

Put up a bill to make them permanent and let them expire if it doesnt pass.

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The GOP will not "play hardball". They will do NOTHING. You are essentially stating a complete pipe dream of what you wish they would do, but never will. You're engaging in a fantasy. This needs to stop. Why anyone, ever, would put even the tiniest faith in one TEAM's capacity--nay, even willingness--to do ANYTHING astounds me.

Get real, rob. No offence, but you need to wake up and realize that absolutely nothing is going to get done. It will require serious violence for that.

reply to this

Belgian| 11.29.12 @ 1:50PM |#

I take offense to your spelling "offense" like some kind of limey douche.

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robc| 11.29.12 @ 1:58PM |#

Actually, I have no faith they will do this at all.

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The Dems let the Bush tax cuts expire. They then reintroduce them, except for no cuts for $250k+. Can the GOP vote down a massive middle-class tax cut?

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Randian| 11.29.12 @ 1:55PM |#

Oh Christ, if we're all that stupid, then I say we start lighting people on fire.

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Looking at the results of the last election, I'd say the answer to that is "yes" on the fire.

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T| 11.29.12 @ 2:20PM |#

I got a lighter and some polystyrene. Somebody bring a bucket and some gasoline.

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"We wanted to continue to keep taxes low on the middle class, but the Republicans are too wedded to the rich to help ordinary people."

James Carville would run that sucker into the ground in 2014.

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Randian| 11.29.12 @ 3:03PM |#

Well, whatever, if people are stupid enough and want to believe that, then go on and let them.

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LibertyMark| 11.29.12 @ 1:11PM |#

Why doesn't anyone call out the mainstream press on these simple questions?

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Hyperion| 11.29.12 @ 1:18PM |#

Who is going to call them out? The sheeple who elected all of these damn fools who created this situation in the first place? They are too busy watching dancing with the stars.

The fools that were elected? They are the ones telling the press what to day, or not to say.

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andarm16| 11.29.12 @ 3:37PM |#

Because the mainstream press, the elected politicians, and their academic sycophants have made themselves the arbitrators of "seriousness" in this country. If you even attempt to suggest something even remotely outside this box, you will be called a radical. If you manage to get a large following while spewing radical "lies", you will have fact checkers in the press looking over your entire life, all the way back to grade school. They will find something, that they can twist into you either being a racist, or a corporate stooge.

reply to this

Drake| 11.29.12 @ 1:11PM |#

The Democrats are banking on the fact that most Americans don't know what a "Trillion" actually means.

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Hyperion| 11.29.12 @ 1:22PM |#

Well, that's a winning bet. Half of Americans couldn't even name one federal representative from their state, or tell you..., ok, just say they are ignorant of most things except that they get free stuff from the government and they want more, which means vote for the democrat, what was his name?

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Certified Public Asskicker| 11.29.12 @ 1:30PM |#

"Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that."

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Yeah cuz we should blame the dumb people for this mess....not the smart ones who should know better.

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Certified Public Asskicker| 11.29.12 @ 2:11PM |#

I was commenting on most Americans don't know what a "Trillion" actually means.

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Bardas Phocas| 11.29.12 @ 1:48PM |#

A can of generic beans in ten years?

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British or American?

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andarm16| 11.29.12 @ 3:49PM |#

If the "serious" politicians even remotely understood that there was a long scale and a short scale, media matters (and so called reasonable Republicans) would be screaming about how Republicans were exaggerating the debt a million fold.

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DrAwkward| 11.29.12 @ 3:20PM |#

I don't think anyone can conceive of a Trillion of anything. The average adult human brain has about 100 billion neurons. That's about enough to fool us into believing we understand trillions, not enough to actually grasp such astronomical numbers.

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Hyperion| 11.29.12 @ 1:12PM |#

The "Balanced Approach" is Bunk: All Tax Hikes, No Spending Cuts

As it shall remain until the very end. Our gluttonous overbloated government will never cut spending, which is why we can be assured of it's eventual demise.

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iggy| 11.29.12 @ 1:13PM |#

How can they just assume that between 2014 and 2015 that those tax revenues will jump 25 billion dollars? And why is there a drop in revenue between 2013 and 2014? The CBO really is just random guesswork, isn't it?

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No. It's carefully engineered to give the impression it's masters want you to have. The rosy assumptions of their predictions aren't accidental.

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Stupid apostrophe!

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They will do nothing. Nothing will happen. Since the world is currently functioning and people aren't rioting in the streets, everything--to a politician, that is--is fine. People get elected; they have power; the world goes on. "Doing something" about the fiscal situation could jeopardize that. Why would they ever do that? The logical (from a political standpoint) thing here is inertia; resist changing course at all, because right now, they've been elected. They have what they want. Why would they change a thing? It's not like they feel any pain or will feel any pain.

I don't understand why people don't seem to understand this. There is ZERO impetus for them to "fix" anything. NONE.

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Hyperion| 11.29.12 @ 1:24PM |#

There is ZERO impetus for them to "fix" anything. NONE.

That, and they couldn't fix it if they wanted to, because fixing things is not their expertise, lying to getting elected is.

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In an article I posted in the MLs earlier in the week, after the Brits imposed a 50% tax on million-pound-per-year incomes, the number of people reporting incomes at that level dropped from 16000, to 6000 and has only risen (after 2 years) to 10000. Even Labour is admitting that the tax hike cost them 7B pounds per year. The problem with taxing the rich (besides the fact that there just aren't enough of them) is that they can afford to leave, hide their money, or defer their income. This would seem to me to indicate that the peak of the Laffer curve is below 50%.

I just don't understand why it is so difficult for people to understand 20% of GDP is the absolute cap on revenue for the federal government, and that 17% is probably the highest sustainable amount. If it were me, and I were the GOP, I'd be shouting this from the rooftops and proposing a 17% budget.

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In fact, on reflection, I would go further. I would be right out front with the fact that this will take 7% away from year-over-year GDP, so if our "recession" is less than 7%, we're growing the private sector in meaningful way. (Also, if you committed to 17% budgets, the next budget would probably be smaller.)

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Barack Obama lied about cutting spending.

Barack Obama lied about leaving Afghanistan.

Barack Obama lied about leaving medical marijuana dispensaries alone.

Barack Obama is a liar.

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sarcasmic| 11.29.12 @ 1:35PM |#

Yeah, but he's black.

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Certified Public Asskicker| 11.29.12 @ 1:41PM |#

On a similar note, Donnell Rawlings was on the trashy morning show I listen to as I drive to work.

Listening to him talk politics made me want to wreck my car. He loves Obama because he looks like him and has no reason whatsoever to actually investigate his policy views.

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sarcasmic| 11.29.12 @ 1:46PM |#

Racist.

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Libertymike| 11.29.12 @ 1:50PM |#

95% - 98% of black folk voted for the black man.

Any person who argues that skin color was not a factor in black people voting for Obama really brings the stooooopid.

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sarcasmic| 11.29.12 @ 1:52PM |#

Racist.

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Calidissident| 11.29.12 @ 2:00PM |#

It was 93% in this election. Which isn't much higher than Kerry or Gore got. The reason most blacks vote for Obama is the D next to his name on the ballot, not his skin color

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Libertymike| 11.29.12 @ 3:01PM |#

So, you have proof that "the reason most blacks vote for Obama is the D next to his name on the ballot, not his skin color"?

So, do you think that skin color was not a factor for black folks in deciding for whom to vote?

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Certified Public Asskicker| 11.29.12 @ 1:53PM |#

He loves Obama because he looks like him and has no reason whatsoever to actually investigate his policy views he is just so fucking cool.

My apologies.

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Libertymike| 11.29.12 @ 1:46PM |#

He's one mendacious mongrel.

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sarcasmic| 11.29.12 @ 1:54PM |#

The use of the word "mongrel" is obviously racist.

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LTC(ret) John| 11.29.12 @ 2:01PM |#

And a "dog whistle" to boot!

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Libertymike| 11.29.12 @ 2:55PM |#

Yeah, and the criticism leveled at Susan Rice is racist and sexist.

If one is black, or partially black, one is not thereby innoculated from criticism.

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Jordan| 11.29.12 @ 1:47PM |#

He lied about closing Gitmo.

He lied about CIA secret prisons.

He lied about transparency.

He lied about the attack in Benghazi.

Hmm, this could go on forever. Better stop now.

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Auric Demonocles| 11.29.12 @ 2:09PM |#

He lied about using public campaign financing, before he was even elected.

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I'm going to take him at his word that he personally approves every drone strike against "terrorists."

That way, every wedding party, every entire family, every child murdered by his decisions, their blood is directly on his hands.

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sarcasmic| 11.29.12 @ 1:28PM |#

No one on either side will ever mention any specifics, because specifics mean someone becomes unemployed or stops receiving a check.

That person will get really mad and ask "Why me? Why not someone else?"

Remember that a government job is basically a job for life. At best they can promise to cut people though attrition, as in not replacing people when they retire, but that is something that happens over time. It's not instant.

So there will be no cuts. Ever.

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Libertymike| 11.29.12 @ 1:52PM |#

You appear to be especially optimistic today.

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sarcasmic| 11.29.12 @ 2:02PM |#

I was supposed to get a call back this week about a real job. So far all I've gotten was a text message of a stranger's butt. Seriously. Someone with a NH cell numbe

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