07/21/2010 01:04 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It's the Tax Cuts and Wars, Stupid

In a terrific column for, Pulitzer-Prize winner David Cay Johnston breaks down new government data and puts USA Today's whole "lowest tax bills since 1950" revelation into dollars and cents we can all understand:

In 1979 federal taxes for the median-income household totaled $6,100, but in 2007 taxes slipped to $6,000. That $100 decline, measured in 2007 dollars, understates what a bargain taxes have become. Back in 1979 federal taxes equaled 18.7 percent of comprehensive household income. By 2007 incomes had grown 28 percent in real terms, so the tax burden not only dropped in absolute dollars, it also fell as a share of median comprehensive income to 14.4 percent. So over 28 years median income has risen in real terms by $9,100 while federal taxes have fallen by $100.

As Johnston points out, this is not something you hear very much about from journalists -- or as he puts it, "those who play journalists on television talk shows." And you certainly don't hear it from congressional Republicans or rank-and-file conservatives, who continue to bewail allegedly high taxes as our biggest problem, despite the real emergency of cash-strapped communities now slashing police forces, tear up roads and even outsource entire municipal workforces.

Indeed, what you hear from conservatives -- if anything -- on spending issues is that allegedly profligate domestic expenditures are supposedly running up all-too-big deficits. But again, that runs you straight back into the government data, as reported by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

Some commentators blame recent legislation -- the stimulus bill and the financial rescues -- for today's record deficits. Yet those costs pale next to other policies enacted since 2001 that have swollen the deficit. Those other policies may be less conspicuous now, because many were enacted years ago and they have long since been absorbed into CBO's and other organizations' budget projections. Just two policies dating from the Bush Administration -- tax cuts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- accounted for over $500 billion of the ($1.4 trillion) deficit in 2009 and will account for almost $7 trillion in deficits in 2009 through 2019.

That graph really says it all -- if you are genuinely concerned about deficits, then you should be concerned not about domestic spending, but about spending on the Bush tax cuts and wars (and this doesn't even mention the bloated defense budget that is, according to National Journal, on course to be the biggest in a single presidential term since World War II).

That's the real tax and spend story that conservatives don't want told.