"We'll run against their tax increase, and we'll crush them."
With those bracing words, Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, and the nation's leading opponent of excessive taxation, framed what is becoming the great issue of the 2012 presidential campaign.
With the demise of the super committee, and on top of years of excessive, extravagant over-spending, the matter of the repeal of the Bush tax cuts is now front and center in the public arena.
Democrats do not assess the state of play, or the upcoming elections, the same as Mr. Norquist. They quote polls supposedly justifying their plans to limit tax increases "only" to "wealthy" taxpayers making over $250,000 per year. In other words, they appear to be fine with the Bush tax cuts expiring, across the board, unless the "rich" are taxed at a higher rate. And, yes, entitlements are untouchable.
Unfortunately for the Democrats rescinding or even threatening to rescind the Bush tax cuts for taxpayers at all income levels, not just whomever they deem to be inordinately or inappropriately prosperous and successful, may be a Pyrrhic victory at best. More likely, it will be the political equivalent of Chernobyl.
The Bush tax cuts expire after the election. If the Republicans hang tough and campaign as Grover Norquist envisions, just how do you think independent swing voters will break? Will they vote based on class resentment, holding out for a Bush-Lite tax cut for those the Democrats deem worthy? Or recalling the last four years of spending, taxing and over-regulating, and seeing the expiration of the Bush tax cuts as a seamless web, vote Republican, or more accurately, anti-Democratic, out of concern for four more years of the same? The question answers itself.
Maybe liberals and Democrats simply can't comprehend the toxic nature of taxing and spending to the American middle class, which is what most independent voters are. Ezra Klein, one of the Washington Post's "progressive" columnists on economic and domestic policy, believes that the Republicans in Congress are in a double bind, facing "two triggers" which, presumably, are a kind of "nightmare" for them. He is referring to the automatic sequestration of $1.2 trillion, set to go off on January 1, 2013, bleeding both defense and domestic spending in equal measure, and, number two, the "extremely progressive trigger worth $3.8 trillion that goes off" on the very same date -- the automatic expiration of the Bush tax cuts.
The Democrats have to do nothing to achieve substantial increases in revenue and deficit reduction, claims Klein.
Klein says "the Democrats are in the driver's seat." Yet, he is mystified that the "Republicans don't seem particularly worried about the triggers, and Democrats don't seem particularly interested in pressing their advantage. At least for now."
In truth, Klein hedges his claim that the White House and the Democrats in Congress are sitting pretty. He admits, in a masterpiece of understatement, that "Letting the Bush tax cuts expire is not a popular policy. Nor do crowds cheer for automatic sequestration." Still, if a deal is impossible, and the tax cuts in their entirety are rescinded, does the White House "really think that would be a bad outcome? Or is it a better one than they could have imagined?"
Republicans might find themselves asking, "Is this a trick or what? How could we be so lucky?"
Klein's political tin ear or cluelessness characterizes, not just liberals and Democrats, but also many inside the Beltway at least as it relates to anything as massive as a $3.8 billion tax increase which will result from letting the Bush tax cuts evaporate into a mist of spending and entitlement growth.
Grover Norquist and Ezra Klein are reading the electoral tealeaves in very different ways. Norquist seems to be relishing the thought of crucifying the President and the Democrats on a cross of tax increases. Klein seems to think the repeal of the tax increases, in toto, especially those for the "wealthy" or productive Americans, redounds upon the GOP and benefits of the White House and its congressional allies. Or something.
I'm putting my money on Grover.
The Wall Street Journal recently opined in an editorial entitled, "Thank You, Grover Norquist," expressing their gratitude to him for "reminding Republicans of their antitax promises" and "helping to expose the real reason for the super committee's failure: the two parties disagree profoundly on a vision of government."
Actually, the Republicans on the super committee were willing to compromise "putting tax revenues [not tax rates] on the table," the editorial noted. "Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey offered $500 billion in revenues-$300 billion in the statically scored tax increases that Democrats demanded-by cutting deductions mainly for the wealthy."
The Democrats rejected this offer from one of the leading anti-tax figures in the country, the former head of the Club for Growth, instead holding out for a trillion dollars and opposing lower tax rates.
Appropriately, Charles Krauthammer, in a column ("The Grover Norquist tax myth") the day after Thanksgiving, called out the Democrats for their "thickness -- the inability to tell the difference between tax revenue and tax rates."
"In deficit reduction, all that matters is tax revenue. The holders of our national debt care not a whit what tax rates yield the money to pay them back," says Dr. Krauthammer. "They care about the sum."
Democrats, oblivious to the economic efficiency and dynamism of tax reform, "flatter themselves as the party of fairness, are instead obsessed with raising tax rates on the rich as a sign of civic virtue," says Krauthammer. He is certainly right about congressional Democrats. Regrettably, more intellectually credible Democrats such as Alice Rivlin and Erskine Bowles, who recognize these truths, are spurned by the Obama White House and the Reid-Pelosi caucuses in Congress.
"Democrats are confident they can blame Republicans for the failure and ride their president's class war campaign to victory," said the WSJ. "Republicans have to counter with a message of economic growth and sensible reforms of our government institutions so the U.S. doesn't end up like Europe."
"This is for voters to decide. Let's have it out." Grover Norquist and the GOP will certainly concur.
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