Bush Tax Cuts Spur Disagreement Among Dems

07/30/2010 06:13 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Democratic Reps. Tom Perriello and Gerry Connolly of Virginia say their party should stay on message this election season, but it's hard to do that when they disagree with each other.

The Bush tax cuts will be a pivotal issue in November as candidates hash out how to shrink the deficit and boost the economy. And though Connolly and Perriello often vote together, the freshman lawmakers part ways on whether to extend tax cuts for Americans making over $250,000 per year.

Connolly represents a minority of Democrats in his support for extending the cuts (but Republican support for the idea abounds). Perriello sides with House leadership, citing deficit concerns.

"If I had a criticism of my fellow Democrats... I would say we have frankly not been very good at weaving the narrative" and sticking to "one message," Connolly told reporters at a breakfast Wednesday sponsored by the progressive Third Way think tank.

Republicans, by contrast, have had "a very consistent message: government is the problem," added Perriello.

Perriello and Connolly's disagreement on tax cuts shouldn't come as a surprise: they represent very different constituencies. Connolly's 11th District in Northern Virginia, just across the river from D.C., is the wealthiest in the country as measured by median household income. Perriello's 5th District in central Virginia is more politically conservative and the median household income is $35,700 as compared to $80,400 in Connolly's district.

Connolly argued the top 5 percent of earners make up a "disproportionately" large share of consumer spending, and that letting their tax cuts lapse could hurt a fragile economy. "I part ways, I think, with the dominant view of my caucus on this subject," said Connolly. "I do not favor a permanent extension of the Bush tax cuts. I do favor extending the current rate for some period of time until the economy is on a sustained and a robust track."

"I think this is where Democrats need to reassess their views about who's wealthy and all that good stuff," Connolly said, adding that if you look at the top 59 congressional districts by income, Barack Obama carried 47 of them in 2008. "These people voted for us. They are our constituents, and yet we have in the last year and a half... consistently picked on them to finance a whole plethora of wonderful ideas."

Perriello begged to differ. "If you look at who has benefited the most since President Obama came to office, it's that top [two] percent," Perriello said.

Only 2.3% of households in Perriello's district earn more than $200,000 per year, according to Census data. But that didn't stop Periello's Republican challenger Robert Hurt from blasting him on Wednesday for his comments about tax cuts.

The tax cuts would add $678 billion to the deficit over a ten-year period, according to the office of Management and Budget. And HuffPost's Laura Basset reports that Alan Blinder, professor and co-director of Princeton University's Center for Economic Policy Studies, says extending the Bush tax cuts would provide minimal stimulus to the economy and widen the gap between rich and poor.

Perriello, for his part, thinks the richest Americans are doing alright.

"I'm not saying 'stick it to them' in terms of what we do with these tax cuts," Perriello said. "I think the idea of animus or whatever is not constructive, but if you look at what the first impulse of Washington was during the bailout it was to shore up the largest banking institutions."

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