Timothy Noah

Welshers For Deficit Reduction

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I may have done the Washington Post and its super committee correspondent, Lori Montgomery, a slight disservice this morning when I wrote that "they still won't explain why the Republicans' proposed tax hike is actually a tax cut." They do, actually, if somewhat obliquely, in a separate story in today's Post:

"Throughout most of the supercommittee talks, Democrats had agreed to measure any proposed reductions in the deficit based on current tax levels. A senior Democratic aide said they had also explicitly offered to permanently extend all the Bush tax cuts. But the initial Democratic proposals would have clawed back as much as $1.3 trillion through a rewrite of the tax code.

"Democrats fundamentally changed that approach in their latest offer, made last Friday. While they dropped their demand for new taxes to just $400 billion, they also retracted their offer to extend the Bush tax cuts. And they insisted that the entire amount be extracted from ending tax breaks for individuals and business, rather than through 'pro-growth tax reform.'" [Pro-growth tax reform is the current euphemism for "trickle-down economics," i.e., tax cuts for rich people.]

The Post's narrative is that a $2 to $3 trillion tax cut is really a $300 million tax increase because the Democrats welshed on their promise not to include the scheduled expiration of the Bush tax cuts in their calculations. Really, though, these are two separate questions. The Democrats may have welshed on their promise, but that promise (assuming everybody signed onto it; I guess we'll learn the details in the inevitable Thanksgiving-weekend ticktock) was never capable of altering reality to the point where a $2 to $3 trillion tax cut would magically become a $300 million tax increase. Decmorats don't have that power. 

Sadly, I don't find it hard to believe that the Democrats would have pledged at the outset that they would assume the Bush tax cuts would be renewed. Democrats (including the one currently occupying the White House) are congenitally inclined to a negotiating style wherein they deal away all leverage at the outset in order to demonstrate their good faith. This is about as effective in the hard-knuckled world of politics as you would expect it to be. Fortunately in this instance they came to their senses. I suppose that makes them welshers. But I'd rather they be dirty rotten welshers than absolute and total saps, which apparently they almost were.

Meanwhile, that goddamned doomsday clock still haunts the Post homepage, even after the Post has finally broken down and reported that a failure to meet the deadline would have no consequences.

 

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