Friday, March 9, 2012

On letting the Bush tax cuts die a natural death

The current Democratic mantra regarding the Bush Tax Cuts is to raise them on the top incomes but leave the cuts in place for families making $250,000 or less.  Given political gridlock that makes any short-term alternatives linked to economic recovery unlikely, Felix Salmon, at Baseline Scenario, argues for letting the whole package of Bush Tax Cuts die when they are due to expire at year's end:
We are dealing with a Republican Party that will block any package that raises taxes on anybody. They will block any tax increase, even if it hurts them in the general elections, because they are completely locked in by the Grover pledge and the Koch brothers. The only choice we have is between extending all of the tax cuts and complete gridlock, which means that they all expire. And if we extend the Bush tax cuts, we are just four Senate seats away from making them all permanent.

Can't get enough of this graph.
Given that choice, I vote for gridlock. I understand the counterargument: tax increases would weaken the recovery and increase unemployment in the short term. But those tax revenues are crucial to the long-term health of the middle class. Ending the Bush tax cuts will slash projected deficits and push right-wing claims about the bankruptcy of Social Security and Medicare decades into the future. Yes, conservatives will always want to privatize Social Security and dismantle Medicare, but they only have a chance of actually succeeding when government deficits make those programs seem unsustainable, bringing so-called centrists over to their side.

So, for me, letting all the tax cuts expire on December 31 is better than making them permanent. Letting them all expire is also better than making just the “middle-class” tax cuts permanent. (Another note to Democrats: since when do we push for tax cuts for families making $200,000 a year?)  ...
In the end, I think the Bush tax cuts were one of the two most catastrophic policy decisions of this century (the other was the Iraq War). They were a terrible idea then and they are a terrible idea now. I think letting them all expire would be good for the world and for the middle class. And whether or not that makes me a “fiscal conservative,” I think it makes me a Democrat.

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