Will 2012 be different than 2010?
Greg Sargent posts a chart from MoveOn.org showing that the tax deal looks bad if the good stuff sunsets over the next two years and the bad stuff is extended indefinitely:
And that's true! But another way to say it is that if we begin passing bad policy rather than good policy in 2012, then after 2012, a lot of the policy we have in place will be bad.
There's a tendency in political commentary to take the outcome of a particular conflict with a distinct set of circumstances and use it to make broad, sweeping judgments on the character and tactical intelligence of the people involved. I'm certainly guilty of this. And it's not that there's nothing to the technique: When evaluating politicians, you don't really have a lot of options beyond looking at what they do.
But nor is it infallible. The story that the White House tells about the tax cuts is this: We have a shaky economy that can't afford a large tax increase. Congressional Democrats refused to vote the upper-income tax cuts out of existence before the election. They could've done it, the White House wanted them to do it, and Obama certainly would've signed the bill. But they didn't. And then they lost the election. Newly empowered Republicans refused to extend the tax cuts for income under $250,000 unless they also got the tax cuts for income over $250,000. This isn't a popular position in the country, but with the next election two years away, they're not worried about popularity. So given the choice between letting the cuts expire and potentially harm the recovery and negotiating a compromise which pumps hundreds of billions in extra stimulus into the economy over the next two years, the White House chose the latter.
In 2012, they say, things will be different. The economy will be stronger. The president will be on the ballot. The deficit will be a more legitimate concern. The Democrats won't be facing an election in which they're about to be decimated, or processing an election in which they were decimated.
If you're going to say that the cuts for the rich will definitely be extended, you have to ask which part of this the White House is wrong/lying about. If they're wrong about the recovery, and subsequently Obama gets kicked out of office and congressional Democrats get trounced, well, the question is moot. Alternatively, they could be lying about their assessment of the political situation, or their intention to fight on an issue that polls well for them, but it's not clear why they would do that.
This is a different question, incidentally, than whether this deal is a good deal now. That has more to do with your concerns about the deficit and inequality versus your assessment of the recovery and the need for more stimulus. But it doesn't seem obviously crazy for the White House to argue that the political and economic situation in 2010 is different than it is likely to be in 2012, and so they'll make different decisions. On the other hand, it's not crazy for someone to argue that the White House said they'd make a different decision in 2010 than they ultimately ended up making, and so their rationalizations lack credibility.
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