When Politics Trumps Policy, Bad Things Happen

Posted by Bob Lord

An interesting juxtaposition of articles from the Washington Post. 

On Tuesday, in Study: Poor Children Are Now The Majority In American Public Schools In South, West, the Post reported on a study showing that poor children were in the majority in public schools in the South and West, and that overall barely fewer than half our public students come from poor households. The Post:

But by 2011, almost half of the nation’s 50 million public-school students — 48 percent — qualified for free or reduced-price meals. In some states, such as Mississippi, that proportion rose as high as 71 percent.

In a large swath of the country, classrooms are filling with children who begin kindergarten already behind their more privileged peers, who lack the support at home to succeed and who are more than likely to drop out of school or never attend college.

“This is incredible,” said Michael A. Rebell, the executive director of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Columbia University, who was struck by the rapid spike in poverty. He said the change helps explain why the United States is lagging in comparison with other countries in international tests.

Those are abysmal statistics. Want to know why they will get worse?

Then turn to Ezra Klein's Wonkblog post, Higher Taxes Shouldn't Be The Democratic Party's Top Priority, which appeared online in Wednesday's Post. 

There, Klein explains why the Democrats should abandon any effort to increase revenue through higher taxes. Pushing for higher taxes would be bad strategy. Klein:

When the budget commission sits down, Democrats should expand the playing field.

First, they should realize that sequestration is the best opportunity they’ll ever have to cut defense spending, and that a dollar in defense cuts is exactly as effective as a dollar in new revenue at relieving pressure on social services. Why Democrats have decided that cutting the incentives rich people have to donate to charity, buy big homes or live in blue states is so much better than cutting defense spending escapes me.

Second, Democrats should realize the objective need for tax increases is less than it was in 2011. As they note, the deficit has fallen, and fast. Health-care costs are down. The CBO’s budget projections are much sunnier than they were a few years ago. Democrats like to argue that this makes the Republicans’ monomaniacal pursuit of spending cuts a bit ridiculous. But it does the same to their insistence on tax increases.

Third, they should see their leverage clearly: Republicans badly want entitlement cuts, but they don’t want them enough to trade for taxes. They badly want to replace sequestration, but not enough to trade for taxes. And they badly want tax reform — but, again, not enough to trade for higher taxes.

One answer to that is to keep sequestration in place until something changes. That’s basically the answer Democrats have come up with. But it’s a terrible answer. It’s bad for growth, bad for government, and bad for the people who depend on government programs.

Democrats should use their leverage to get something they actually want. Immigration reform and infrastructure investment are obvious places to start. They mean vastly more to the economy and to people’s lives than slightly higher taxes on rich people. And they’re things that many in the Republican Party want, too.

From the perspective of political strategy, Klein makes a lot of sense. Indeed, the Democrats likely would do well to heed Klein's advice.

But it won't do anything to address the rising percentage of public school kids living in poverty. That problem only will get worse until we address our ever-widening inequality. And you can't address inequality without taxing rich people more. 

The bottom line: The Democrats will follow Ezra Klein's advice, inequality will worsen, and more of our public school students will come from poor households. 

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