Political Animal


January 03, 2013 9:34 AM Tear Down Those Tax “Shrines”

By Ed Kilgore

In the web-wide effort to identify winners and losers in the “fiscal cliff” battle (with the best answer, IMO, being “nobody knows” until we see how it affects the next, and massively larger, fight), one of the arguments we’ve heard cited most often is that George W. Bush was the big “winner” because his signature tax cuts finally became part of permanent law, not some temporary budget measure. This conceit, in fact, has become a big part of the progressive case that Obama got rolled. Like Republicans rationalizing votes for the tax bill, these progressives are pretending most Americans got the Bush tax cuts all over again, shiny new and fiscally lethal as they were the first time around. And both sides are using the word “enshrined” to refer to the magical effect the vote had on the tax cuts first enacted in 2001.

Sorry, I don’t buy it. Yes, the tax cuts expired on midnight of December 31, and you can easily make the argument Obama and Democrats didn’t sufficiently use that leverage in the negotiations (e.g., by getting an extension of the payroll tax cut, or some relief for the debt limit hostage the GOP is already tying up). But no, most Americans did not regard what happened as an action to restore, much less enshrine, tax cuts: it was, of course, a selectively applied tax increase, both before and after midnight. The “temporary” nature of the Bush cuts was never an advertised feature that Americans adjusted to and expected, but an inside-baseball trick by Republicans to make the cuts enactable through the budget process via reconciliation.

Sure, you can score Obama and congressional Democrats for a lack of courage in failing to take a unique opportunity to repeal the Bush tax cuts in their entirety. But let’s don’t pretend the scheduled expiration of these cuts changed their nature, other than in the consequences of complete inaction. Some of the people positively affected by the partial extension of the Bush tax cuts may credit one side or the other for making it happen. Most will not perceive anything at all as having happened, because it didn’t. That’s in sharp contrast to the situation with the payroll tax, where technically nothing happened (a scheduled expiration of a tax cut was allowed to occur), but many millions of Americans are waking up to the reality of significantly smaller paychecks that nobody much talked about during the gripping 24-7 national saga of the “fiscal cliff.”

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Sue on January 03, 2013 9:49 AM:

    That is because we are not holy "job creators" just mere wage slaves...supply side economics is, most unfortunately , not dead in the media or the halls of our benighted congress

  • bleh on January 03, 2013 9:54 AM:

    Could we PLEASE get over the notion of Congress making anything "permanent, aka "enshrining" it or "tying their hands"?

    NOTHING Congress does is permanent, because Congress can undo it later. Yes, undoing requires assembling majorities and avoiding or overcoming filbusters or vetoes, but so does the doing in the first place. It's the same process.

    There is no permanent.

  • JeffInOhio on January 03, 2013 9:58 AM:

    "many millions of Americans are waking up to the reality of significantly smaller paychecks"

    Please stop this. A 2% cut on the breadbasket of the middle class (me) comes to $100 a month. Is it significant? In no middle class universe is a 2% reduction of something significant.

  • JR on January 03, 2013 9:59 AM:

    Re the payroll tax: Did I miss something of doesn't it fund Social Security? Though it's expiration wipes out my raise, I'd rather take the cut than assist SSI on its road to insolvency.

  • David in NY on January 03, 2013 10:00 AM:

    Nonetheless, if Americans didn't view the Bush tax cuts as temporary, it was purely the Democrats' fault. They were in fact temporary. Moreover, the justification for them was even more temporary -- a surplus that quickly vanished under Republican economics. With the surplus gone, there was simply no justification for continuation of those cuts -- not to anyone.

    Too bad that the Republicans have so intimidated the Democrats that they could never make such an argument.

  • Peter C on January 03, 2013 10:03 AM:

    The most objectionable part of the Bush Tax Cuts was their disproportionatly favorable treatment of the very rich; they were a massive raping of the treasury by the super-wealthy.

    The net effect of the recent action reverses some large part of that; the deal made taxes MORE progressive.

    That's not the objectionable part of the deal to me. If we mint a $1 trillion platinum coin (and circumvent the idiotic debt ceiling extortion), I'm happy with the deal.

  • jcricket on January 03, 2013 10:15 AM:

    "...millions of Americans are waking up to the reality of significantly smaller paychecks that nobody much talked about during the gripping 24-7 national saga of the “fiscal cliff.”

    I stop by PA daily. Seems to me that you too, were engrossed in the 24/7 saga you now seem to lament. If you posted anything on the payroll tax, it was drown out by your daily posts about the "fiscal cliff".

    As long as you mention the payroll tax 'cut', you really should refer to it properly as the 'payroll tax holiday' as that was how it was proposed, and enacted. It was supposed to be for a year to help add a little more spending money into the very weak economy. It got extended for a year. Holiday over.

    Your Democratic bona fides are without question, but your argument on this reminds me of the conservative habit of moving goalposts and redefining terms to fit the desired outcome. It really diminishes the discussion.

  • Al on January 03, 2013 10:16 AM:

    Why is it that there's always some justification/rationalization for Obama getting ROLLED and for the right to WIN?

    Every FOCKING time a standoff comes along, Obama loses and the Repulicans win, yet there's always some excuse why that's expected and inevitable.

    Is anybody sick and tired of it? We should get a page from the teatards and primary challenge moderate republicans (democrats like Obama) next time...

  • KK on January 03, 2013 10:58 AM:

    How come every time he wins the left bitches that he got rolled? You should here the right wing freaks here, hating on Boner as the royal sell out. Compromise is Democracy. The NE got a big beak for once, good for us. That 250 group here likely spends every nickel of it.

  • c u n d gulag on January 03, 2013 11:06 AM:

    Maybe it's because, though it's much smaller, the left has its own version of Teabaggers.

    If you were to believe a lot of the FireDogLake crowd, Obama is much, much worse than W.
    To bad what they're smoking isn't legal yet in my state.

  • HMDK on January 03, 2013 11:43 AM:

    c u n d gulag, it's great that when you don't have arguments you have... I was gonna say "smear tactics", but the phrase isn't quite right... oh, yeah, I got it: "dumbassery".
    The dumbassery of leftists is people voting Green without understanding just how stupidly the election system is set up. It is, however, NOT dumbassery to believe ones own not-so-lying eyes when it's so fuckin' plain to see that being a democrat these days means being a Nixon voter and hoping we don't slide further right.

  • skeptonomist on January 03, 2013 12:00 PM:

    The most important parts of the Bush tax cuts were for unearned income and for higher brackets. These were only partially reversed - the impact is slight. Cuts for near-median incomes were not much.

  • c u n d gulag on January 03, 2013 12:12 PM:

    Look, I think all of the commenters here will vouch for my Uber-Liberal bona fides.

    So, having said that, until we can change our election system, in a two party system such as ours, with one party, while not being Liberal, at least has going for it that it isn't quite completely clinically insane, voting for a 3rd Party, while it seems noble, is actually one less vote for the saner of the two options.

    And, if you want to change the election system, don't look now, but one party wants to do just that, by taking away the Electoral College Votes from entire states, and divide (or redistribute - but no, that can't be! They hate redistribution of anything!) them up into Congressional districts - all the better to be able to grab the Presidency.
    Andd the party trying to do THAT, ain't exactly the Democrats.

    If, instead, you want to see some positive changes in our election system, the Green or Working Families Parties, are a lot further away from doing that, than our sorry-@$$ Whoreporatist Democrats.

    Look, I don't exactly love 'em, either.
    But I realize that they're all that's standing between me, and people like me, and this country morphing into a Dystopian Dominionist Christian and Fascist Corporate Banana Republic of poor and dying serfs, and their/our masters.

    And, until another possible option becomes viable, I'll stick with the Democrats and continue to vote for that party, because, while not every Republican is a racist, or a misogyinist, or a xenophobe, and/or a homophobe, or even a Jesus-freak - all racists, misogynists, xenophobes, and/or homophobes, and a lot of Jesus-freaks, are Republicans.

    To me, the choice seems kind of obvious.
    Them's my $0.02. worth.

  • RMcD on January 03, 2013 1:18 PM:

    Ed, you're right but you missed the biggest reason that Bush LOST here (and lost big), which is that the ONLY part of those tax cuts he and the rest of the GOP cared about was the big cut for the top 1%, and that's the part that got repealed. That's why the GOP fought like hell for that part and held the rest hostage--they never really cared about the rest. The bottom 98% got cuts just to buy us in to the huge cuts for the rich; it was our little kickback.

    Now, the rich do still get some cuts at the lower marginal rates, just like the rest of us, but that's small consolation, which is why the FOX crowd is all in freakout mode. And, here's another bonus. Since tax rates for all us "lucky duckies" are actually too low now from a budgetary standpoint, the GOP won't be able to pull the same Bush scam again, since they've already given us the candy and they won't have any more to give next time they want to slash rates for the Kochs and Trumps (and hide that that's what they're up to).

    So, props to Peter C, the one person I see on this string who got it.

  • Duge on January 03, 2013 3:03 PM:

    Idiotic. Nothing has been "enshrined" or "made permanent" by any stretch of imagination. When Congress wants to have another debate about tax policies and make some changes it can. Probable anytime soon? No. But certainly not impossible to change. "Made permanent" or "enshrined" would be if we adopted them as Constitutional Amendments which, of course, did not happen- though those aren't technically permanent either (just a LOT harder to change/remove)

  • Duge on January 03, 2013 3:06 PM:

    NOTHING was "made permanent" or "enshrined". Congress can change the tax rates whenever it feels like it. Probably won't happen again anytime soon but it can and probably will at some point IMHO. It's not as though we adopted a new Amendment to the Constitution or anything.

  • Rick B on January 03, 2013 5:01 PM:

    Look. Obama WON by putting the necessary taxing system for Social Security back into place.

    The payroll tax cut damages the funding planning and operation of Social Security, but it was a kludge installed to quickly administer a desperately needed financial stimulus to save America and the World from the consequences of the conservative removal of essential bank regulations.

    Obama won by not getting an extension of the payroll tax cut. He is protecting the future benefits from Social Security. This does nothing more than replace the future borrowing that would have been needed to protect future benefits by replacing the essential tax mechanism on which they will be based.

    Obama has placed Social Security back on a more secure funding mechanism where it was originally intended to be. Social Security was originally designed to avoid the need for Congress to pass welfare legislation during bad economic periods. This action again sets the Social Security System back to the stability it was originally intended to achieve.

    Obama did not lose by raising taxes. He won by protecting the Social Security System for the future.

  • Rick B on January 03, 2013 5:14 PM:

    c u n d, please continue to explain the situation to the children.

    When and if they grow up and become aware of the strangenesses built into to American voting systems, they'll realize what you are talking about.

    Side note: Apparently the servers have been taken over by the same idiots who administer Captcha. Both as a disaster.

  • rockwala on February 04, 2013 2:25 PM:

    awesome balls