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Budget stalemate: Why America won't raise taxes

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"I just spent a day with the governor of Florida – he's not raising taxes, period," says Norquist. The same goes for New Jersey, Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana – "you're going to get real spending restraint in those states."

Historically, this has not always been the case. True, politicians have never been eager to raise taxes. But in the past, when economic crises hit, law­makers have often turned to taxes as part of the solution.

Many of these crises, not surprisingly, came in the form of wars. The nation's first income taxes were levied to help pay for the Civil War. Repealed shortly thereafter, income taxes came back permanently in 1913 with the ratification of the 16th Amendment, enshrining in the Constitution the federal government's right to collect them directly. They became the biggest source of revenue for Washington during World War I.

Lawmakers lowered rates after the war ended, but then increased them again during the Great Depression and raised them even higher during World War II – when the top marginal tax rate hit a staggering 94 percent.

Interestingly, in the war's aftermath, Republican President Dwight Eisenhower and the GOP-controlled Congress chose to leave rates relatively high. During the 1960s, Congress began lowering taxes again, repeatedly bringing them down over the next two decades – but because tax brackets weren't indexed to inflation, which was rising, the overall tax burden on Americans actually increased.

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