THE BLOG
09/19/2010 10:33 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Tax Controversy is Built on a False Choice

Would you vote to cut taxes only for the middle-class, if that were your only choice? Who says it's your only choice? It's time to place the blame on those who try to box people in.

The furor over the tax cut answer given by House Republican Leader John Boehner (R, OH) obscures the fact that it's a tough question-one for which all politicians should have a response ready before it's asked.

Reporters want to push them onto the horns of a supposed dilemma: either disavow across-the-board tax cuts or be labeled a toady for the rich. Or dodge the question and get depicted as a weasel.

The better approach is to challenge the very premise of the question. Who is trying to force a decision between bad alternatives? It's known as a "Sophie's Choice"-from the Meryl Streep portrayal of a mother cruelly forced by Nazi's to choose only one of her children to save from a death camp.

(Watch the crucial movie scene here.)

America's economy is hurting, but must President Obama and his team of class warriors insist that some can be saved from January's automatic tax hikes but others must not be? It's the opposite approach from how President John F. Kennedy ended a recession by insisting on across-the-board tax reductions.

Examples abound that Obama's selective approach hurts the very group that creates the jobs we need; the entrepreneurs who are holding back from expanding and creating jobs due to Obama's impending higher taxes and heavier regulations; the 5 per cent who are credited with 37 per cent of consumer spending. As The Wall Street Journal reports, "According to new research from Moody's Analytics, the top 5% of Americans by income account for 37% of all consumer outlays."

Like it or not, those who can spend more freely provide a wealth of jobs for everyone else. Punishing them ends up punishing blue-collar people. The classic example was the 1990 luxury tax imposed on jewelry, yachts, private planes and more. Congress repealed it after thousands of layoffs occurred in those industries and the added unemployment costs exceeded the luxury tax revenue.

Pick the metaphor of your choice, but responses to the Sophie's Choice question on taxes should reject the premise that some must be left behind. To save the economy, we need lifeboats for everyone. When the economic house is burning, don't tell us we can rescue only some who live in it.

The top 10 percent of earners already pay 71 percent of federal income taxes; the top 1 percent of earners carry 40 percent of the burden. If anyone isn't bearing their fair share, it's certainly not them. Trying to make the wealthy bear an even larger burden than they do now will hurt the entire economy.

A full economic recovery requires a full, across-the-board extension of the lower taxes that boosted our economy before and now can boost it again.

Responsibility for bad choices rests with those who refuse to permit good options; who craft "Sophie's Choices." And it's not just Obama. It's also those in Congress who write the legislation and thereby define the possible choices to be voted upon.

A number of Democrats recognize that Obama is trying to force Congress into a bad no-win decision and are speaking out for lower taxes for all who pay income taxes. They include key Senators like Kent Conrad (D, ND), Ben Nelson (D, Neb), Jim Webb (D, VA) and House members like Reps. Gerry Connelly (D, VA), Jim Matheson (D, UT), and Melissa Bean (D, IL).

Now House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D, CA) has received a letter from 31 House Democrats asking that lower taxes should be extended across-the-board. She should heed those colleagues.

President Kennedy in 1962 called for "across-the-board top to bottom cut in both corporate and personal income taxes" to end a recession. It passed and it worked. The YouTube video of JFK's speech is worth watching.

Many believe that a bipartisan majority would approve the across-the-board approach today if Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D, NV) would permit a vote. It ought to come quickly, before the November elections, so voters will know where everyone stands. And our economy could get some much-needed good news.