Friday, May 12, 2006

Cutting through the spin

The House of Representatives voted 244-185 to postpone a tax increase for another two years. That's not the story you were getting from news outlets like the New York Times, however, which claims that Congress voted to extend tax cuts supported by President Bush. Instead, the mainstream media is mired in technicalities that obscure the real truth.

The real truth is that allowing the tax cuts to "expire" is actually a tax increase. If the tax cuts "expire" then taxes will go up. To clear-thinking people out here in flyover country, when tax rates go up and the government takes more of your money, the government is increasing your taxes. Inside the bubble of Washington, D.C., however, reality is replaced by spin.

Having a sunset provision on tax cuts is the worst form of political cowardice. If Congress is going to cut taxes, they should just cut taxes. By putting an expiration date on tax cuts, Congress can raise taxes by doing nothing at all. Instead, they have to vote to not increase taxes. Then, money-grabbing politicians can simply claim they were allowing the law to take the course intended when the tax cuts were passed in the first place. This provides cover should the Democrats recapture Congress.

This does present a major political opportunity for Republicans, however. One of the main reasons the Republicans took over Congress in a landslide twelve years ago was that the Democratic Congress and disgraced ex-President Clinton passed the second largest tax increase in American history. President George H. W. Bush was bounced out of office two years before that partly because he broke his promise to not raise taxes. The American people are not fond of large tax increases, especially if they can be made to understand that tax increases on the "rich" will be passed along to the poor and middle class.

What the Republicans should be doing is targeting every Democrat who voted to increase taxes with print, radio and television ads and with targeted mailings. Republican incumbents should force their Democratic opponents to answer whether or not they oppose "extending the tax cuts" and then blast every one who answers "yes". Make the American people understand that electing a Democratic Congress will mean legislation will be passed to increase taxes.

Right now, Republicans seem determined to grab defeat from the jaws of victory by allowing Democrats to define the terms of the debate. If Republicans keep taking about "extending" tax cuts rather than opposing tax increases they will do great damage to their hopes of holding Congress after the mid-term election. The Republican Party needs to grow a spine and realize that we are not in an ivory-tower discussion in the Parliamentary Debate Society, but that we are in a war that will require us to take off the gloves and expose the Democrats for what they are. It worked before and will work again.