Two weeks ago, my former White House colleague Bill McGurn reported in his Wall Street Journal column on the Democrats’ flip-flop on the Bush tax cuts:
Barack Obama admits that he got the Bush tax cuts all wrong.
That’s not how he would put it, of course—and it’s plainly not what’s being reported. Even so, President Obama’s recent statements about the expiration of these tax cuts on Dec. 31 have put paid to the most widely accepted political slander of the past decade: that the Bush tax cuts rewarded the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.
That proposition simply cannot be reconciled with President Obama’s latest position, which is that America’s middle class will find itself hammered if Congress doesn’t extend President Bush’s middle-class tax cuts….
In any honest universe, this would be news. President Obama says the middle class benefits mightily from the Bush tax cuts and cannot afford to see them expire. Which provokes a question: Where has our press corps been these past 10 years?
For most of that time, Democrats have been hollering that the only people to benefit from the Bush tax cuts were Bill Gates, Wall Street bankers, and the guy with the top hat and monocle who appears on our Monopoly sets. Now the same press that accepted, approved and amplified the “Bush tax cuts for the wealthy” trope leaves unchallenged a president who today tells us, oh, by the way, those Bush tax cuts are vital for America’s middle class—and claims that the opposition to middle-class tax cuts proposed and put into law mainly by Republicans comes from . . . Republicans.
McGurn went on to quote Nancy Pelosi complaining that the Bush tax cuts were “taking food out of the mouths of children to give tax cuts to America’s wealthiest,” and Harry Reid claiming Bush “drew up their program to benefit the very, very, very few and eliminate the majority from any”—yes, any—”benefit of these tax cuts.” Now, suddenly, these Democratic leaders are singing a different tune—criticizing Republicans for wanting to allow those tax cuts to expire. Where, McGurn asked, is the press corps to call them out for their hypocrisy?
Well, it seems the universe may just have gotten a little more honest. Today, finally, the Washington Post reports in a front page story “Democrats push for tax cuts they once opposed“:
Democrats seeking a deal to avert the year-end “fiscal cliff” are trying to etch into stone the signature economic achievement of Republican President George W. Bush by permanently extending tax cuts enacted during his tenure.
President Obama has put the extension of the tax cuts for most Americans at the top of his domestic agenda, a remarkable turnaround for Democrats, who had staunchly opposed the tax breaks when they were written into law about a decade ago….
R. Glenn Hubbard, dean of the Columbia Business School and an architect of the Bush tax cuts, said it is “deeply ironic” for Democrats to favor extending most of them, given what he called their “visceral” opposition a decade ago. Keeping the lower rates even for income under $250,000 “would enshrine the vast bulk of the Bush tax cuts,” he said….
In 2001, when Bush proposed the tax cuts, Democrats argued they would benefit the wealthy, create long-term deficits, and deprive social programs of needed money. Some Democrats at the time were open to a more modest tax cut, especially one less favorable to the rich. Bush could push his tax cuts through Congress only by agreeing they would expire a decade later.
Now the Democrats who insisted on making the Bush tax cuts temporary want to make them permanent for 98% of Americans. At a time when we are told that conservative economic ideas are out of vogue, that is quite a ideological victory.