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The tax proposal released last week by House Republicans would add $1.7 trillion to the national debt over a decade, according to a new analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

What a strange development. The same men and women who spent the last nine years being Very Mad about the deficit have gone and written a tax proposal that significantly increases it. Why have they done this?

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They have done this because:

1. The deficit argument is bullshit, even for people who tell you it is not bullshit.

2. Most outrage expressed by members of Congress is posturing meant to make their political opponents look bad.

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Which leads me to this tweet from Nancy Pelosi:

This is the wrong argument for Democrats to be making in general, but it is particularly harmful at a moment when popular momentum around universal programs like single payer healthcare will necessarily require the public to reassess its feelings about taxes and the national debt.

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The Republican tax proposal isn’t bad because it explodes the deficit or because of some hypothetical debt burden being given to your phantom grandchildren—or even because some middle class families will pay more in taxes. It is bad because the things being paid for with this debt and with these tax increases only benefit extremely wealthy individuals and corporations.

Democrats may feel very clever for hoisting House Republicans on their own fiscal hawk petard, but this argument undermines the things they can and should be saying in defense of more robust social and economic programs that will benefit everyone. Because those things will cost money.

Increasing the debt and raising taxes on more than just the wealthy are likely going to be necessary steps toward financing any of the large-scale progressive investments—from expanded food assistance to subsidized or free childcare to universal paid leave—that millions and millions of people need so desperately need right now.

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On something like single payer, the argument is that universal access to healthcare would help control costs for medication and medical devices, eliminate monthly premiums, and reduce overall spending in ways that, in the longterm, balance out or even pay for whatever increase the average person saw in their taxes. But the mainstream political consensus right now is that in order for a policy idea to be considered serious, it can’t increase the debt or raise taxes on almost anyone—no matter what. This is most often a Republican talking point, but it’s also popular with liberals hoping to stifle any kind of left turn in the Democratic Party.

No matter who’s making the argument, it can stop good policy in its tracks. Stephanie Kelton, a professor of public policy and economics at Stony Brook University and former economist for the Senate Budget Committee, put it this way last month in an editorial for The New York Times:

Should we invest a trillion dollars in our crumbling infrastructure, offer Medicare for All or pass the biggest tax cut in the country’s history?

Propose any of these, and the first question on everyone’s lips will be, “How are you going to pay for it?” The reason is simple: Lawmakers are obsessed with avoiding an increase in the deficit.

The impulse is so strong that it’s almost Pavlovian. It’s also holding us back. Politicians of both parties should stop using the deficit as a guide to public policy. Instead, they should be advancing legislation aimed at raising living standards and delivering the public investments in education, technology and infrastructure that are critical for long-term prosperity.

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It is bad to drive up the deficit and raise taxes on middle class families in order to give obscenely wealthy people and corporations trillions in tax cuts; it is bad to drive up the deficit and raise taxes on middle class families over growing healthcare costs; it is bad to drive up the deficit and raise taxes on middle class families to pay for endless wars. But it is not bad to drive up the deficit and raise taxes on middle class families while building out public infrastructure that helps millions of people and reduces needless death, poverty, and general suffering.

In order to get anywhere closer to having hard numbers on this, or knowing how it will work in practice in this country, Democrats are going to have to get better at making an affirmative case for the long game and for the public good. So far, they’re blowing it.