There is a strong (though by no means universal) consensus that if the Obama administration wants to make a serious dent in the federal deficit, it will have to let at least a portion of the Bush tax cuts expire in 2011.
The task isn't always easy politics. No one wants to get tagged with raising taxes (especially during a recession), even if -- as the White House is proposing -- the rates will only go back up for those households making more than $250,000. But it gets a whole lot tougher when the media starts insisting that such a proposal constitutes a middle class tax increase.
That's what happened on Monday morning when White House budget director Peter Orszag was interviewed on CNN's American Morning with Kiran Chetry.
CHETRY: You also talk about letting taxes expire for families that make over $250,000. Some would argue that in some parts of the country that is middle class.
ORSZAG: Well, I guess it's not the parts of the country where I've been. What we're trying to do is cut back on the tax breaks for the elite, for the very highest earners in part to help get this deficit problem under control over time and also to rebalance the tax code.
Orszag, of course, is right to be confused here. In 2007, the Census Bureau pegged that median household income at $50,233.00. In 2006, just 1.5 percent of the U.S. public lived in households where the income was $250,000 or higher.
Beyond the fact checking, however, is the context. The White House has already passed enormous tax cuts for middle class Americans, as part of the stimulus package. And, as Orszag noted earlier in the CNN sit down, it is hoping to continue "tax cuts for middle class families and actually some expanded tax cuts for middle class families" going forward. The president has gotten far more criticism from Democrats for making those tax cuts a part of the stimulus than he has received credit from Republicans for their inclusion.
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