Have you ever played one of those online deficit reduction games? Every now and then some publication or other will make a list of sources of new government revenue, including spending cuts and tax hikes, and allow you to choose which ones you’d like to see exploited. If Congress were to approach the debt problem that way – competing to generate the most (hypothetical, eventually real) revenue from a list of possible sources with the least political pain – they might have actually getting somewhere on the issue by now. Instead, there’s this.
A memo from White House senior adviser David Plouffe, whom many of you will remember as President Obama’s 2008 campaign manager, to congressional Democrats calls on them to “go on the offensive” with their Republican counterparts on the issue of taxes. While the article mentions Obama’s call for a tax hike on Americans earning $250,000 and up, the memo appears to have more to do with the moves Obama has already made on taxes. Plouffe wants Democrats to prove that Obama hasn’t been the relentless tax-hiker they’ve been making him out to be.
OK. I get that this is an election year. I get that the Obamacare ruling is casting greater shadows on Obama’s fiscal record and that Democrats need to be ready to strike back against the inevitable Republican punch lines. That’s politics. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. This is all inside baseball that doesn’t mean anything to Americans who are concerned about falling off a fiscal cliff, which could very well happen if Congress doesn’t get its act together.
Plouffe’s approach to the Obama administration’s record on taxes is akin to what would happen if, say, an oil company pumped millions into PR efforts after a spill instead of improving environmental safety. It won’t do anyone any good except the company itself, and even that’s a stretch if you know that many people aren’t that superficial. If congressional Democrats listen to him, they could be wasting an enormous opportunity to be more fiscally hawkish.
Here’s what they should do instead: Operate on the principle that raising anyone’s rates is a lost cause (for now) and they’ll only generate revenue by closing tax loopholes. Make a list of loopholes they think deserve to be closed. Challenge Republicans to do the same. Vote to close the ones both parties dislike (after determining economic impacts). Debate the other ones until they’re both blue in the face. Then, once you realize that this will only go so far, talk about raising rates.
Plouffe’s not asking for a debate on taxes. He’s asking for a debate on campaign material. The rest of the country is not.