War and Taxes: What Do George Bush, John McCain, and Tom DeLay Have in Common with George Washington and Alexander Hamilton?
Not very much says Ruth Marcus:
Confronting the debt amassed during the Revolutionary War, George Washington was determined to pay it off, warning against “ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear.” Confronting the enormous costs about to be piled up in Iraq, George Bush determined to press for new tax cuts — not just “little bitty tax relief,” as he put it, but hundreds of billions more. “This contrast — between an active war effort on one hand and substantial tax cuts on the other — has no precedent in American history,” three tax historians explain in “War and Taxes,” a new book from the Urban Institute. Rather, since the War of 1812, “special taxes have supported every major military conflict in our nation’s history.” As Steven Bank, Kirk Stark and Joseph Thorndike show, presidents and lawmakers have not always been eager to impose taxes to pay war costs. But historically, Republicans and Democrats alike ultimately acknowledged the necessity — fiscal and moral — of shared sacrifice. “I think the boys in Korea would appreciate it more if we in this country were to pay our own way instead of leaving it for them to pay when they get back,” said House Speaker Sam Rayburn. Until Iraq, that is. “Nothing is more important in the face of a war than cutting taxes,” then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay declared in March 2003.
One can review the ratio of Federal debt to GDP from 1934 through today by looking at table B-79 of the Economic Report of the President. While this ratio rose from 54.2% in 1939 to 121.7% in 1946, at least some of the cost of fighting World War II was borne by higher taxes during the war. The debt to GDP ratio actually declined during the Korean and Vietnam Wars. But during the Iraq War, Americans got to pay less in current taxes so the debt to GDP ratio has increased. This Administration rejected the principle of shared sacrifice. And even though John McCain advocates both a continuation of the current war and more wars in the future, he wants to cut taxes even further. Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton would not be pleased.