Yesterday I mentioned that Colonel Ozark Billy Long, my congressman, attached his name to a letter addressed to the cut-the-deficit supercommittee, a letter that was signed by 40 House Republicans—37 of whom have at one time signed the Grover Norquist pledge not to ever, ever, ever raise taxes—and 60 House Democrats suggesting that,
To succeed, all options for mandatory and discretionary spending and revenues must be on the table.
That word “revenues” has impregnated many folks with hope that Republicans, at least some of them in the House, have come to their senses about the need to increase government revenues. (Jim DeMint has attempted to abort that hope with a list of 33 Senators who pledge to keep having political intercourse with Grover Norquist, however.)
One of my favorite pundits, Lawrence O’Donnell, even had a segment last night in which he posted the mugs of the 40 House Republicans under an approving header:
You may have noticed that red circle around the mug of Ozark Billy, which I put there to indicate that I don’t agree with the suggestion that Long’s including himself in the letter to the supercommittee constitutes some kind of profile in courage.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, I thought about it. It is something like progress that 40 Republicans were willing to step out of the Norquistian shadows and see reality perhaps for the first time in their lives.
And I wanted to write a nice piece praising my congressman for his courage, for his political valor, for his willingness to give the finger to Grover Norquist.
But then I started thinking.
If someone who had been holding a hostage suddenly decided to let him go, would we be obliged to reward the hostage taker by giving him or her a medal of honor? Republicans, including most of the signers of the letter, have been serial economic hostage takers. The fact that a few of them may have put the gun down and decided to try another way does not merit uncritical admiration.
Then, I noticed that the letter did not include any specific proposals or any definition of what “revenues” meant, in terms of raising them. I’m sure most of the Republicans had in mind some kind of tax reform that would lower rates and eliminate deductions, thus possibly—and I say, only “possibly”—resulting in a net increase in government revenue.
And then I started thinking about what Billy Long has said this year.
During the debt-ceiling debate in July, he was quoted in the Springfield News-Leader as saying,
We are not going to raise the debt limit and they need to know that now instead of August 2nd.
The debt-ceiling fiasco nearly everyone now recognizes as one of the low points in American history. On the floor of the house, as the debt-ceiling nonsense raged, he said on July 19, “The people have spoken. The business community has spoken. When will the President and the Democrats listen?” and then he finished with this:
I would like to close with one of the hundreds of letters from one of my constituents:
”Dear Congressman Long, do not budge. We put you in office to stop these big spenders. Go ahead and call his bluff. I am in tornado-ravaged Joplin and rebuilding my house. I’m glad you are covering my wallet in Washington.”
“Call his bluff,” Billy!
As for jobs, in late summer he was quoted in the Joplin Globe as saying that the nation “doesn’t need a jobs project” and,
Now, we over-regulate, overtax-ate and over-litigate.
“Overtax-ate“? In two months has he suddenly changed his mind about the amount of taxes the government collects? Huh?
On September 22, 2011 on the floor of the House he said,
We don’t do much right up here, and trying to run businesses is not something we should be doing. We should be reducing taxes, reducing spending, reducing regulation.
So, six weeks ago he was saying we should be “reducing taxes” and now he has come to Jesus on the need to raise revenues? Huh?
Mr. Speaker, I came to Congress as a small business owner. And as any small business owner will tell you, the government can’t create jobs, only the private sector can…
…the reality is that government spending trades productive private sector jobs for usually wasteful public sector jobs….
As part of the House GOP Plan for America’s Job Creators, we’ve opposed the President whenever he wants to create new taxes or more regulations…
Since President Obama has been the champion of tax cuts, and since he has also been on board with reforming the tax code—as Long himself has said is necessary—it’s hard to say what Ozark Billy means by Obama wanting to create “new taxes,” except new taxes—which really aren’t “new”—on the wealthiest Americans.
Is the Colonel now, by virtue of his letter to the supercommittee, suddenly supporting increased taxes on the wealthy? It’s hard to believe that.
Thus, it’s also hard to give him any credit for courage for putting his name on a letter to the supercommittee that quite generically mentions “revenue” as being on the table. I do hope, however, that it is a sign of a new phase of reasonableness in the political life of our congressman from Springfield, but I’m not ready to pin a medal on his chest just yet.