Someone should tell House liberals that President Obama doesn't actually support the excise tax
The Oscar for Most Baffling Editorial went to my colleagues across the hall this weekend, for this effort on the excise tax. The point of the editorial was to lament that the excise tax kicks into gear in 2018 rather than 2014. Fair enough: I'd like to see it start sooner, too. But the decision to blame President Obama for that state of affairs is not only inexplicable, but actively harmful to the editorial's cause.
The editorial identifies "Mr. Obama's unwillingness to fight for the tax" as the reason the excise tax will start a couple of years later than originally intended. This is just dead wrong. There have been a number of policies that the White House has been unwilling to really fight for. The public option, for instance. Medicare drug reimportation. But the excise tax stands almost alone as an unpopular, politically dangerous policy that has only survived this far into the process because the White House adamantly refuses to stop fighting for it.
By all rights, the excise tax should have died already. It's unpopular. Really unpopular. Back in June, a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found that only 33 percent of voters thought the idea "acceptable." More than 60 percent, however, were comfortable with a tax on the rich. A January CNN poll found the numbers virtually unchanged.
This was not lost on politicians who actually have to run for reelection this year. Scott Brown ran against it in Massachusetts. House Democrats have been vocal in their opposition to the tax, and they became even louder after Brown's victory made their vote more important and their numbers less certain. “The excise tax has no support, very little support, in our caucus," warned Nancy Pelosi. Republicans, meanwhile, have spent their time mauling the policy, even as many of them support it in principle. And yet, the White House has simply refused to drop the excise tax from the bill. It survives because the Obama administration simply refuses to let it die. They've had to make some compromises along the way, of course, but all in all, no single policy in the bill has been as much a profile in courage as the excise tax.
Sunday's editorial, however, made no mention of any of that. Not the polls, not Brown, not the Republicans, not the White House's surprising success at keeping the excise tax in the bill despite the House's objections. Nothing. That's not bad simply because it gives an inaccurate impression of the impediments facing the tax or the story so far. It's bad because it weakens the incentives for politicians -- not just this White House, but future White Houses -- to do the hard work on cost control.
After all, if the reward for defending an unpopular-but-important policy is that your political opponents get to attack you while editorial boards hammer the compromises you have to make to keep the proposal alive, then why try in the first place? The likely impact of the editorial page's inability to tell the people trying to pass the excise tax apart from the people trying to kill the excise tax is that savvy political consultants will have a stronger argument to make when they advise their clients to follow the polls and tax the rich rather than support unpopular policies to control costs.
For more, see Harold Pollack.
Posted by: scarlota | March 8, 2010 9:32 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Hopeful9 | March 8, 2010 9:49 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: IndyInNH | March 8, 2010 9:54 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: staticvars | March 8, 2010 10:02 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: SierraTangoWhiskey | March 8, 2010 10:12 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: mitchellfreedman | March 8, 2010 10:27 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: valkayec | March 8, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: t_seltzer | March 8, 2010 10:47 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: moronjim | March 8, 2010 11:06 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: visionbrkr | March 8, 2010 11:21 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: umesh409 | March 8, 2010 12:03 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: tbass1 | March 8, 2010 12:20 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: beckya57 | March 8, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: johnowl | March 8, 2010 7:46 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: lancediverson | March 9, 2010 2:11 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.