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Forget the Question: The Answer Is "Tax Cuts"

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Readers of this column may recall a lecture I discussed this summer by the economist fondly known as "Dr. Doom," New York University's Nouriel Roubini. I criticized Roubini for his failure to take politics into account when giving his "higher taxes, fewer services" spiel, because while fiscal solvency is undoubtedly important, the exact mix by which they are to be achieved is a question of political preference, and ought to be decided that way.

Even so, during the postlecture question-and-answer-period a well-dressed gentleman stood up and asked, "Wouldn't it be a great idea if the president did everything Roubini suggested but also extended the Bush tax cuts for the rich? I mean, why not?" Never mind that it contradicted everything Roubini had just said. The lecture was in the Hamptons, after all, where tax cuts for the wealthy go a long way.

Perhaps you've noticed that extending the Bush tax cuts is conservatives' answer to everything. Just this week, Martin Feldstein, who was economic adviser to President Ronald Reagan, said all the Bush tax cuts should be extended for two years because even letting those for the wealthy lapse would be "a blow to a very fragile economy."

And last year Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) introduced a GOP stimulus plan authored by the Heritage Foundation that consisted in its entirety of making the Bush tax cuts permanent and adding to them additional tax breaks for corporations and wealthy Americans. If enacted -- never a serious possibility -- it would have cost roughly three times what Obama's plan cost over the next 10 years. Even DeMint found it necessary to admit that it was "not innovative or particularly clever. In fact, it's only eleven pages."

Conservatives stuck to this line throughout Obama's first term, deriding the stimulus's impact, complaining of out-of-control deficit spending, and yet demanding the retention of the enormously costly Bush tax cuts aimed primarily at the extremely wealthy as unemployment remained a worrisome 9.5 percent. They say this, meanwhile, despite the fact that even without the wealthiest part of the tax cuts the primary beneficiary of what remains would be rich folk.

We understand why this is the case. After all, Dick Cheney defended a second set of Bush tax cuts following the midterm election by explaining, "This is our due." As Harold Meyerson noted at the time, Cheney's comment gave new meaning to the term "entitlement program."

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