Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A trap that keeps on giving

Ezra Klein of Newsweek uses the recent bill that extends tax cuts to explain how Washington works right now.

* No one cares about the deficit -- yet. In spite of many congresscritters campaigning to cut the deficit.

* Obama is much better cutting the deal than explaining it to his base, resulting in a lack of enthusiasm (see the recent election results).

* The GOP really cares about tax cuts for rich people. They even bargained with Obama to get them. It seems the prez. set his bargaining goals too low.

* The GOP has been able to convince Dems that the tax rate under Clinton -- the last time the economy was truly healthy -- was too high. Put another way the GOP made the Dems terrified of raising taxes.

* We need tax reform, now more then ever.

Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, writing in the Huffington Post, talk about the history of the tax deal. Back when taxes were cut in 2003 the GOP laid a very careful trap which was sprung on Obama and will be sprung on him again in two years (and perhaps every few years after that). Some GOP operatives are crowing about the effectiveness of the trap. There were three parts to the strategy back in 2003:

* Unrealistic projections of federal surpluses which allowed for the claim that the money won't be used (never mind lowering the debt) and should be returned to the people, whose money it really is.

* Careful management of the legislation process so the effects of the cuts on valued programs couldn't be seen.

* Careful description of the cuts so they didn't appear to favor the rich as much as they did.

And, of course, they counted on the public's (and journalism's) short attention span.

The tax bills of both 2001 and 2003 were full of all kinds of time bombs that made no sense other than as political manipulation.

Which leads to the strategy that worked this year. And will likely work again in two years.

* Describe raising taxes on the rich as raising taxes on "ordinary Americans."

* Describe the dire economic consequences of any tax increase.

As before, and with every unified message from the GOP, none of these statements needs to actually be true.

And from the Dems? We only get an incoherent, rambling message.

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