In a Rose Garden statement today, President Obama will kick off the returning debate over the Bush tax cuts, as he will call for a one-year extension of the tax cuts up to $250,000 of income.
House Republicans plan to vote this month to extend for a year all of the Bush tax cuts, for middle- and upper-income people.
The president’s proposal could also put him at odds with Democratic leaders like Representative Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, who have advocated extending the cuts for everyone who earns up to $1 million. And it will most likely do little to break the deadlock in Washington over how to deal with fiscal deficits, an impasse that has only hardened as Republicans sense a chance to make gains in Congress this fall.
But by calling for an extension for just a year, Mr. Obama hopes to make Republicans look obstructionist and unreasonable. Trying to bounce back from another weak jobs report on Friday, he also hopes to deepen the contrast with his challenger, Mitt Romney. On Friday, the president said Mr. Romney would “give $5 trillion of new tax cuts on top of the Bush tax cuts, most of them going to the wealthiest Americans.”
The timing and the level are interesting. I believe that in the past, the President has wanted to keep the tax cuts under $250,000 permanent, rather than a one-year extension. Perhaps this is a signal that those tax cuts, which flow to millionaires as well, considering our marginal tax system, aren’t all that well-designed either. Or perhaps it indicates that an overhaul of the entire tax code is sought. This is the thinking of Republicans on this, as they only want to extend all the tax cuts for a year, paving the way for tax reform in 2013.
And then there’s the $250,000 level. As mentioned above, Nancy Pelosi led the way in changing the dividing line to $1 million. But the President will stick to his original plan of $250,000. Now we’ll have to endure a spate of stories where people go back to Pelosi and ask her whether $250,000 is OK, or whether that will hit the “middle class.” It’s a needless argument but one necessitated by Pelosi shifting the goalposts.
Administration officials called the dividing line a strategic shift rather than a matter of policy, which is what Pelosi has said as well. But where does that end? If the goal is to paint Republicans as unreasonable by showing they won’t let tax cuts expire even at a really high number, then reinforcing that will just move the number up and up.
Perhaps the more important story were the remarks from Obama campaign advisor Robert Gibbs yesterday, where he pronounced the President “100% committed” to letting the tax cuts expire above $250,000. Given Republican unwillingness to split the tax cuts, that can only mean one thing – a full expiration of all the tax cuts.
Republicans reacted to this gambit by playing their familiar card about “uncertainty,” apparently unaware that they will vote to extend all the tax cuts for only one year as well. There’s no difference in certainty between the two proposals, whether yoked to a “promise” for tax reform or not.
It’s worth pointing out that Republicans don’t believe that the President will hold firm on taxes, and with good reason:
Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) predicted Monday that President Obama would eventually “cave” on his proposal to extend the George W. Bush-era tax cuts just for those making less than $250,000 per year.
“At the end of the day, I think the president’s going to understand he’s in a really bad economic position,” Brady said on CNN’s “Starting Point.” “And he will cave and we will not see the tax increases that he hopes for.”
This was the 2010 playbook, and Republicans will play it again, expecting victory. It’s the President who has something to prove here.