'Reagan Conservatives' Dismantle Republican Revolution

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I pulled a pamphlet from the mall directory and stared at it. "What's 'efairness'?" I wondered.

The "Marketplace Fairness Act," as the proposal is known in Congress, would enable states to force businesses outside their borders to collect sales taxes on Internet purchases. It's close to becoming law, thanks to a level of enthusiasm among conservatives that should anger and disappoint anyone who recalls the "Republican Revolution" of a couple of decades ago. Has the party that once ousted "tax and spend liberals" from power so it could "dismantle the welfare state brick by brick," now sunk low enough to sneak a de facto tax increase through Congress? Judge for yourself.

Exhibit A: Presidential hopeful Jeb Bush. Back in 1994, he spoke of ending the welfare state. But in 2015?

It seems to me there has to be a way to tax sales done online in the same way that sales are taxed in brick and mortar establishments. My guess is that there would be hundreds of millions of dollars that then could be used to reduce taxes to fulfill campaign promises.

Increasing taxes in order to reduce taxes? What about reducing spending? That certainly didn't happen while Bush was governor. In 2006, for example, close to two-thirds of Florida's $62 billion and growing budget went into entitlements and programs that should be privatized. By comparison, "efairness" would raise a drop in the bucket. Was Bush too timid or too unimaginative to find a way to make even the modest cuts necessary to save that money? I don't know, but Bush sure is eager to call this a "tax cut." Considering that more than two decades of welfare state growth also occurred on the national level since 1994, it is safe to say that Jeb Bush is a typical Republican. After all, federal spending rose 68% during his brother's presidency, which featured a Republican Congress for six years. Is this still the party that stopped HillaryCare?

This problem neither begins nor ends with the Bushes. Other prominent supporters of this measure include; presidential hopeful Scott Walker, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, Paul Ryan (WI), and the sponsors of the bill, Steve Womack (AZ) and Senator Michael Enzi (WY), plus the twenty Republican Senators who helped Enzi pass it in 2013. To their credit, many House Republicans are against it, but with both Houses under GOP control, it speaks volumes that "efairness" could get this close to passage.

Are conservative thinkers making the case for limited government? Hardly. For example, Arthur Laffer, Ronald Reagan's economic advisor, has called "efairness" "a smart start for growth," as if we could tax our way to prosperity. Decrying the "outdated" "tax loophole" enjoyed by many Internet shoppers, Laffer revealingly called the loophole -- and not the taxes -- "anathema to true conservatives." This rot has been going on for some time. As early as 2001, William F. Buckley advised the Republicans "come to Earth" and find a way to collect state sales taxes. Buckley even had the gall to frame the idea as a blow for limited government: "The mattress maker in Connecticut is willing to compete with the company in Massachusetts, but does not like it if out-of-state businesses are, in practical terms, subsidized." Hogwash. The Massachusetts company is no more subsidized by not being taxed than a schoolyard bully's non-victims are getting free lunches. Unfortunately, as historian C. Bradley Thompson once argued, conservatives seem more interested in taking over the welfare state than ending it. Perhaps Thompson is right about conservatives, but lower spending and limited government aren't anathema to the voters.

This brings me back to the "efairness" web site. Maybe as it claims, 70% of Americans do want this tax increase. If so, conservatives like Buckley, who suggested we "come to earth" instead of taking the offensive, own some of the blame, as do politicians who use confusion and obfuscation to win elections. But advocates of limited government are also to blame, any time we remain unclear about why it is a good thing, or don't stand up for it when we can, such as by keeping a fire lit under politicians who promise to reign in government. Americans didn't "come to earth" in the face of superior British firepower or a human history that had always featured slavery. We fought them both. So, we shouldn't crumble in the face of man-made institutions only a few decades old, or their mealy-mouthed advocates.


Gus Van Horn frequently writes for Pajamas Media and Capitalism Magazine, plus he has his own eponmyous blog

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