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Democrats turn to meaningless word games

Greg Sargent reports that House Democrats want to rebrand the extension of Bush's middle-class tax cuts as "the Obama tax cuts for the middle class."

Sigh. Whether you think this is a good idea, a bad idea or a totally meaningless waste of time -- and you can guess which view I hold -- it's worth remembering that Democrats have known about the expiration of these cuts for 10 years now. If they wanted to create their own middle-class tax cut to replace Bush's expiring program and make sure they got the credit from the voters, they could've done that. If they wanted to begin calling them something different, they could have started the process last year. Instead, we've now been talking about the Bush tax cuts for months and the big plan is to suddenly change how Democrats refer to them in press releases?

Again: Sigh. And putting the lack of planning aside, it won't stick because it's not true. Democrats are talking about extending the Bush tax cuts. They are not talking about expanding Obama's Make Work Pay tax cut, or putting something new in their place. Bush is getting the credit because it's actually his plan. Just because I'm the guy reheating a cold slice of Ray's Pizza on the third day doesn't mean it's now Ezra's Pizza.

By Ezra Klein  |  September 14, 2010; 10:32 AM ET
Categories:  Democrats  
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Comments

A slice of Ezra's Pizza sure does sound good right about now though.

Posted by: brownm1 | September 14, 2010 10:38 AM | Report abuse

I think there are a couple points to pull out of this. From a politics perspective, Ezra's right. If all they plan to do is push through an indefinite tax cut on people making below $250k/year then it seems unlikely that they'll get much credit for it. I think there's a fair case to be made to voters that putting as many Dems in office as they have has permitted these cuts to not resort to procedural moves to get passed, but fair enough.

On the other hand, Republicans are willing to assign things to President Obama simply because he's been in charge, even if they are extensions of President Bush's policies. Don't like the things happening in Iraq now? Well it's President Obama's war, afterall, so you should blame him! Also, making these cuts permanent is an affirmative act which both lets people keep more money in their pockets permanently as well as having a terrible impact on the long term budget deficit. This would be something affirmatively done on President Obama's watch. When talk comes to the deficit again I don't think people are going to blame President Bush for the long term effects of these cuts, and rightly so. If he's going to get the blame later, he might as well get the credit now.

That said, just coping and pasting (most of) President Bush's tax cuts into a new bill is totally stupid. It's bad policy and it doesn't even have the benefit of being slam-dunk politics. I think it may help if the Republicans stand united against any bill that doesn't have some goodies for the rich, but that's risky and I don't even think it is likely to make a huge impact.

The Dems should have been hammering home for months what a bad idea President Bush's tax cuts were in the first place and what little good they've done for such a huge cost. They should have been reminding people for months that what we're talking about is going back to the tax rates we had under Clinton, during which time people were pretty well off and the economy was doing well. They should have been talking about how the tax cuts expiring is because Republicans didn't want to compromise and so used a procedural tool to get the cuts passed, and this is the consequence. And at the same time they should have been saying that though we should let the tax cuts expire because they were bad policy, this is too hard of a time for people to be hit with an increase in their taxes, so they've put together a package of temporary relief that will allow the current cuts to expire while temporarily replacing them with cuts which are targeted to helping the economy but which will keep tax burdens the same for people under $250k/year.

Posted by: MosBen | September 14, 2010 10:57 AM | Report abuse

--"Just because I'm the guy reheating a cold slice of Ray's Pizza on the third day doesn't mean it's now Ezra's Pizza."--

Especially since you're talking about the portion of the slice of Ray's Pizza that you *didn't* steal from Ray.

Posted by: msoja | September 14, 2010 11:13 AM | Report abuse

Whatever any polition says, no matter what party, winner or loser, just a bunch of meaningless words.

That is our country today. It sure isn't the USA I grew up in. Money talks and BS walks.

Just a quickie: $500,000 will be returned to us with Iran's automic bombs and if thaey need more ransom treason money for the other 2 hikers to further their atomic bimbs they will get it, and so will we!

Posted by: LOONYBIN2000 | September 14, 2010 11:14 AM | Report abuse

Or, in the words of Jed Lewison:

But I have no idea why we're talking about the "Bush tax cuts" instead of talking about how Bush's tax cuts are expiring as he intended, and meet the new and improved "Obama tax cuts."

Posted by: dorkenergy | September 14, 2010 11:16 AM | Report abuse

Or, in the words of Jed Lewison:

But I have no idea why we're talking about the "Bush tax cuts" instead of talking about how Bush's tax cuts are expiring as he intended, and meet the new and improved "Obama tax cuts."

Posted by: dorkenergy | September 14, 2010 11:16 AM | Report abuse

MEANINGLESS, YOU BET.

NO MATTER WHAT PARTY!!

Posted by: LOONYBIN2000 | September 14, 2010 11:16 AM | Report abuse

Do wealthy Americans need more tax cuts? Do they really need more money to buy more assets that they do not need? I think that President Obama should impose MORE TAXES on the wealthy.

Give us your two cents at www.beyondmytwocents.com

Posted by: beth25 | September 14, 2010 11:22 AM | Report abuse

**When will Queen Nancy Pelosi fire up her congressional trials for Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters? Shouldn't she add Eddie Johnson (Texas) and Sanford Bishop (Georgia) to her list since they were of the opinion that they could use tax payer dollars for their own NEPOTISM??????**

Posted by: wheeljc | September 14, 2010 11:24 AM | Report abuse

"Do wealthy Americans need more tax cuts? Do they really need more money to buy more assets that they do not need? I think that President Obama should impose MORE TAXES on the wealthy."

Ah yes, the wealthy certainly have far more income than they would ever need. Because they have wealth they do not need, they should not be allowed to have it.

But wait! Middle Class America has far more than it needs too. They don't need new Minivans, DVD players or iPods. Heck, from a 'needs' perspective, they don't even need TVs or Washing Machines or Refridgerators.

Meanwhile, billions of people across Africa, Asia and Latin America are living on perhaps $1 or $2 a day, dying of starvation and easy to treat diseases.

The answer is clear. We need to impose MORE TAXES on these wasteful Americans, so that we can utilize their resources in the "correct" way.

Let us say that no American truly needs more than than the poverty level. So we'll have a standard deduction of 'the poverty level' based on family size, and a 100% income tax after that.

This income will first be given to grateful Americans below the poverty line (we take care of our own!), and the remainder split evenly amongst the developing countries of the world.

Posted by: justin84 | September 14, 2010 12:03 PM | Report abuse

Democrats are bad at messaging. Republicans are good at it. Big shocker.

Nothing to see here.

Posted by: KBfromNC | September 14, 2010 12:10 PM | Report abuse

"Democrats are talking about extending the Bush tax cuts."

Well, except for the fact that Obama's tax cuts are BIGGER than Bush's for the middle class, and they are PERMANENT, unlike Bush's, they're exactly the same.

I think you've been bamboozled by Republican talking points on this one.

Posted by: theorajones1 | September 14, 2010 12:14 PM | Report abuse

It is becoming all too obvious that the Obstructionist Republican Party of No is determined to kill progress and relief for struggling families yet again here. The same way they fight, every one of them to stop the unemployed from getting a check. The Republicans will fight for their HUGE tax cuts for the wealthy and end up sabotaging the tax cuts for the average middle class American with their filibuster when these cuts expire all together for everyone due to this rampant Republican greed. So go right ahead and vote for the Republicans in November stupid people, don't say the smartest among us didn't warn you. Here I will say it RIGHT NOW, when the Republicans some of you plan on voting for get elected and then screw you over the same way they did under that pinhead Bush, remember these words -- What did you think they were going to do?!

Posted by: Hillary08 | September 14, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

I totally agree that the Dems should be talking about the "Obama Tax Cuts". The problem is: too little too late. Once again the Dems fail to craft the message and just respond. In politics words DO matter and the Repubs always seem to win the messaging war, (there are countless examples like the "death tax" instead of "tax break for ultra rich dead guys",or the entire debate over the "public option" in health care ...

I don't know what frustrates me more: the fact that the Dems are spineless and always cave in, or the fact that they really suck at politics.

Posted by: pundit115 | September 14, 2010 12:46 PM | Report abuse

I totally agree that the Dems should be talking about the "Obama Tax Cuts". The problem is: too little too late. Once again the Dems fail to craft the message and just respond. In politics words DO matter and the Repubs always seem to win the messaging war, (there are countless examples like the "death tax" instead of "tax break for ultra rich dead guys",or the entire debate over the "public option" in health care ...

I don't know what frustrates me more: the fact that the Dems are spineless and always cave in, or the fact that they really suck at politics.

Posted by: pundit115 | September 14, 2010 12:47 PM | Report abuse

@pundit115: "I don't know what frustrates me more: the fact that the Dems are spineless and always cave in, or the fact that they really suck at politics."

The two are related. The Democracts suck at politics because they are spineless and always cave in. It's hard to argue that someone should go along with your policies if you don't believe in them yourselves.

If the Democrats really believed in their purported views on the economy, inequality, and how the Bush tax cuts "caused" the surplus to turn into a deficit, then 40 of them in the Senate would stick together and let all the Bush tax cuts expire on time and make the case that no one was overtaxed during the 1990's and the economy did just fine.

Republicans and independents may not agree with them, but they might respect them more.

Posted by: jnc4p | September 14, 2010 12:51 PM | Report abuse

If they have to take the heat for passing or not passing the extension for families under $250k, they can call it anything they want - as long as it gets done.

Posted by: tuber | September 14, 2010 12:58 PM | Report abuse

"it's worth remembering that Democrats have known about the expiration of these cuts for 10 years now."

Ezra, you're going to lose your status as a card-carrying member of the Vast Left Wing conspiracy if you keep talking like that.

I made a similar point, I think, in the comments of Sargent's blog. To whit: this is a semantic game, and not compelling. There are ways to play politics with it that are compelling (such as offering your own middle class tax cuts and forcing Republicans to vote against them), but just trying to co-opt the good part of legislation that you want (without just authoring your own tax-cutting legislation to supplant it--crazy idea, I know) while attributing the bad part to your competitors . . . it just doesn't work. And such an opportunity for confused messaging. One day, they are the Obama tax cuts. The next day, they are the Republican tax cuts that the Republicans designed to expire. So they're actually the Republican's "tax hike"! And so on. More confused messaging is just going to end with the Republicans winning the day on this particular issue, despite polling that clearly favors letting tax cuts for the rich expire.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | September 14, 2010 1:58 PM | Report abuse

I agree entirely with theorajones1. Obama is not merely proposing an extension of the "Bush" tax cuts for those earning under $250,000 (AGI). There are many tax changes in Obama's proposal and several are tax cuts for people earning less than $250,000. So Obama's tax cuts for these people would be GREATER than the cuts made for them in 2001/2003.

Posted by: pjro | September 14, 2010 2:01 PM | Report abuse

"The Dems should have been hammering home for months what a bad idea President Bush's tax cuts were in the first place and what little good they've done for such a huge cost. " posted by MosBen

They did that, MosBen. Right up until the time they decided it was politically expedient extend them.

Posted by: bgmma50 | September 14, 2010 2:37 PM | Report abuse

Let them expire, extend them, do whatever you want, but whatever you do, Brer Fox, please, please don't rebrand them the Obama tax cuts. :)

Posted by: bgmma50 | September 14, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, what the heck is happening to you? You are not normally this naive.

The Republicans have no compunction about conflating the unpopular TARP, a Bush-signed law, as an Obama policy. They are content to feed that false narrative if it helps achieve their goal -- which is getting people to hate and fear Obama and the Democrats enough to return the GOP to power.

Your idea that Democrats should have been anticipating this situation and promoting tax-cut messaging and policy months ago simply flies in the face of the reality that most voters have a short attention span. And putting a meme out there too early allows it to be shot down and peter out too soon. We are right around 50 days until the election. To me that seems like perfect timing.

I don't understand the hand-wringing just because the Administration has co-opted and re-branded (and as others have noticed, made minor upgrades to) the Bush tax cuts to make them Obama's. So what if it's not genuine? And so what if they introduced little that's original? It is easily understood and explained thusly: If you make under $250k a year, Bush set it up so you would get a tax increase this year. We will cut those taxes for you.

Plus, they trap the GOP into having to defend the tax cuts for millionaires, thus giving Democrats a clear differentiator between themselves and the GOP. It's good politics in that it will resonate with voters, and tap into their anger, at least some of which is correctly directed at the notion that Washington and Wall Street have rigged the game to benefit the wealthy and screw the middle and lower classes.

Honestly, Ezra, the attitude you express here is exactly why Democrats choke in important elections. You're John Kerry circa 2004.

You want wonkishly awesome policy ideas promoted by intellectually genuine advocates, and seek to "educate" the electorate to the wisdom of these ideas. Once that's done, you expect voters to flock to your candidates because of these ideas' inarguable merit, while the opposition stands mute in stunned amazement.

That. Never. Works.

Voters don't care what you know. They want to know that you care. You win them over by advancing messages that show you are on their side and the other guy is not. If Obama wants to take credit for halting a tax increase on those with incomes below $250K, and force the GOP to defend continued favoritism for the rich, I'd say he picked up a few votes for Democrats just in time.

Posted by: Rick00 | September 14, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

"If you make under $250k a year, Bush set it up so you would get a tax increase this year. We will cut those taxes for you." posted by Rick00

That'll work just fine, except for the ginormus deficit/debt thing. Which is why Bush, in all his wisdom, set it up so that they would expire and then Obama extended them AND spent trillions we didn't have. :)

Posted by: bgmma50 | September 14, 2010 3:09 PM | Report abuse

I'm in the Cheney / Galbraith "deficits don't matter" camp myself, but since both parties are willing to give up $200-250 billion in revenue (depending on if the $250k+ tax cut is included), the Democrats could have easily replaced the Bush tax cuts with an Obama tax cut.

Let's see, Congressman Bob Filner's Tax Cut for the Rest of US Act of 2006 proposed replacing standard deduction and personal exemptions with a $2000 per adult, $1000 per child refundable tax credit. Its an iteration of Nixon's negative income tax proposal. It costed out at less than $200 billion.

Or look at the Administration's own expiring "Make Work Pay" tax credit that provides every worker a $400 a year tax credit ($800 per couple) at an annual cost $40 billion. Congress could let the Bush tax cuts expire and use the revenue to make Obama's MWP tax credit six times bigger. Giving working families a $4800 tax credit would boost the economy's aggregate demand and Democrats own electoral fortunes.

But since the Democrats are in the habit of standing still to give the Republicans every opportunity to outmaneuver them, I don't expect anything to change.

Posted by: beowulf_ | September 14, 2010 6:21 PM | Report abuse

I have changed my position on Obama's tax increase on small business owners.
I am now in favor of it.
After consideration, I've decided that I would like to close my business during the summer months, and maybe do a little traveling.
It's a win-win for me.
I can finally enjoy the summer months, rather than having to schedule our workdays around the brutal heat.
It's no big deal for me....my house is payed for, and I have no major bills to worry with.
I kind of feel sorry for my employees.
They won't have it so easy.
Unemployment doesn't pay nearly as well as I do, and three months is a long time.
But as I said, for me it's a win-win.
The other victory will come in the form of the backlash.
When revenue drops, unemployment increases, and no one will even buy our treasury bonds, anymore, it will lead to a '12 trouncing that will make liberals look back at Nov. '10 with nostalgia.

Until that happens, I'll just enjoy my extended vacation schedule for the next couple of years.

Obama--Helping rich guys relax.

Thank you, Mr. President

Posted by: MrMeaner | September 14, 2010 7:35 PM | Report abuse

We Americans have very short memories. Lest we forget, it was a few short months ago that the Administration and Dems wanted to let ALL tax cuts expire. They were demonizing Bush and the tax cuts for the 'rich', with little said that these tax cuts affected the 'middle class', too. They said that all tax cuts must go, then, they seemed to be shocked that there would be a blow-back if middle-class cuts were allowed to expire, so hurriedly changed their minds and started screaming that Repubs didn't want tax cuts for the middle class. The same people who embrace Obama's economic policies are the ones who worry about what the cuts are called--fools, all.

Posted by: coffic | September 15, 2010 9:14 AM | Report abuse

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