Federal spending under Obama has been 24 percent to 25 percent of gross domestic product. Even in World War II, revenues never reached that level. Since that war, the highest level was 20.6 percent of GDP in 2000, when the government was flush with tax revenues from the capital gains of dot-com founders.
Growth does increase revenue in a progressive tax system like ours.
Several participants in the grand bargain negotiations, Woodward recounts, described them as trying to solve a Rubik's Cube. Republicans wanted lower tax rates with base-broadening tax reform to provide added revenues, and they wanted changes in the trajectory of entitlements.
Democrats wanted higher rates on high earners but were not averse to broadening the tax base and were at least talking about entitlements.
The problem is not just reaching agreement, but reaching agreement on something that can get majorities in both houses of Congress.
Some members of both parties won't vote for any bargain in which the other side gets something. So leaders of both parties have to persuade colleagues that they have made sufficient policy gains to warrant the policy concessions.
History shows that can happen. In Bill Clinton's second term, he and Newt Gingrich reached agreement, with the aid of then-Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, because there was something for both sides. Republicans got a capital gains tax cut, Democrats got S-CHIP (State Children's Health Insurance Program), and they both got a balanced budget.
Clinton and Gingrich were even making progress on Medicare reform and negotiating about Social Security until the Lewinsky scandal erupted.
House Republicans have a majority and some leverage but cannot hope to prevail on all fronts. They may decide that higher tax rates are tolerable if they can make significant progress toward spending discipline and changing the trajectory of entitlements.
In summer 2001, Obama wasn't able to produce such a package. Will the second-term Obama succeed?