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“They got more than they can handle.”

Democrats are apparently angry (I think it’s mostly pretend) that President Obama “caved” to the Republican demand to extend the Bush tax cuts to everyone.   Both parties agree on extending the middle class tax cuts.  They disagree over whether or not they should be extended to the “wealthiest” Americans.

President Obama Holds News Conference Discussing Tax Cut Deal
Alex Wong, Getty Images

Democrats tried to do this before the elections, but failed because  they disagree among themselves.  They still do.

But let’s drop the Washington speak.  What we’re talking about is a tax increase.  Or tell me what the difference is between extending a tax cut and raising taxes?  Stop wracking your brain; there is none.   It’s a game of semantics that was structured with this day in mind, from the beginning.  The only way Bush could get his tax cuts through congress at the time was by having them expire in 2010.  Some lynx-eyed operative saw the angle:   you’d get a tax increase without having to vote.  Or, if there was an attempt made to keep the rates in place, you could vote for a tax increase without voting for a tax increase.  Instead, you’d vote to let the “Bush tax cuts expire.”

Democrats do tend to get hammered as prodigious taxers, and rightly so.   Obama fought valiantly to break this image.  He was going to give tax cuts to 95 percent of the American people.  No one earning under $250,000 a year would see a tax increase.  He would extend the Bush tax cuts only to those earning under $250,000 a year.  It was a campaign mantra.

So why isn’t the Democratic party’s reaction, mission accomplished?  Obama kept his promise to 95 percent of the American people.  And I don’t think the 5 percent he broke his promise with are too upset.

Why is it important to some Democrats to raise taxes on the wealthy?

We are supposed to believe that their concern is for the deficit.  But does anyone really believe this?  I don’t.  I try not to believe things that aren’t believable.  This is no more believable than the absurd claim made during the health care debate, that this massive new entitlement was actually going to reduce the deficit.  Free ponies for everyone!!!

A serious effort at deficit reduction was proposed by President Obama’s debt commission.  There may be flaws, but it really attempts to tackle the problem.  Their recommendation involves lowering ALL tax rates.  (Along with getting rid of exemptions, yes.)  Many of the very Democrats who are most upset with the President’s tax compromise are the ones who are most opposed to the debt commission’s recommendations.   Hmmm.  Real deficit hawks.

The sad fact is, this is not about deficit reduction.  It’s about the politics of envy.  Despite the best efforts of some, most people in this country are unmoved by this appeal.  Nevertheless, it is harder to make the case for keeping tax rates low on the wealthy.  The ultimate reason for doing so, beyond a dedication to the belief that it is right to let people reap the rewards of their own efforts and talent, is that it is also good for the country.  This is disparagingly called “trickle-down” economics.  Formerly one said that the rising tide lifts all boats.  And it’s true.  Wealth isn’t static.  It’s created by individual effort every day.

One of my favorite movies is Raising Arizona.  A couple who can’t have children of their own steal a baby from a wealthy couple who recently had quintuplets thanks to fertility drugs.  It’s a quirky movie.  The husband’s first attempt to snatch one of the babies doesn’t go well, and he leaves without taking one.  But his wife won’t let him back in the car until he gets one.  She explains to him, “They got more than they can handle.”   So he goes back and gets one.  But they didn’t have more than they could handle, and the couple who stole the baby, who never meant any harm, realize this themselves.

Dan Foley

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