The Math Doesn’t Work: Utopian Progressive Tax Plans Don’t Add Up

Democratic presidential candidates have spent the primary season promising the largest non-war spending spree in American history. Sen. Bernie Sanders has promised a staggering $97 trillion over the next decade. Before she dropped out last week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren had proposed approximately $50 trillion. Former Vice President Joe Biden has looked like Barry Goldwater by comparison, promising “only” $6 trillion in new spending above the current $60 trillion baseline level. All of these candidates are far to the left of President Obama, who regularly proposed about $2 trillion in new spending over the next decade.

Let me offer an idea that may sound crazy in Washington, D.C. Before doubling government spending, why don’t we pay for our current commitments first?

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that annual budget deficits will surpass $1 trillion this year, and approach $2 trillion within a decade. Even if the presidential candidates actually paid for all their spending hikes—which is nearly impossible—it would still leave $13 trillion in underlying budget deficits over the next decade, and a national debt roughly the size of the entire economy. 

In fact, even a “deficit-neutral” presidential agenda that matched $50 trillion in new spending with equal taxes would still worsen the long-term budget picture, because it would use up all the savings proposals that would otherwise be needed to close these underlying deficits. There aren’t enough potential taxes to both close the existing deficit and finance a historic spending binge. As Margaret Thatcher once pointed out, eventually you run out of other people’s money.

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