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Let the Bush-era tax cuts expire…all of them

COMMENTARY | November 18, 2010

The lame-duck Congress is debating whether to keep the personal income tax cuts for the wealthy and the middle class or only for the middle class. Bob Giles suggests that President Obama take charge and announce that he would veto any extension, for anyone. It would be a call on Americans to sacrifice, as they have in past emergencies. And income tax rates wouldn't be any higher than they were under Bill Clinton.

By Bob Giles

In this time of emergency, President Obama needs to add a word to his working vocabulary: sacrifice.

Sacrifice is an important American tradition that embraces the virtues of patriotism, puts national interest ahead of self-interest, and encourages everyone to share the burden in perilous times.

President Kennedy’s call for sacrifice in his inaugural address, "Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country," earned universal praise. It was a declaration for Americans to sacrifice to win the Cold War and the emerging space competition with the Soviet Union.

During World War II, President Roosevelt asked Americans to accept their individual responsibility, from putting their lives at risk in battle to accepting food and gas rationing to collecting tin cans that would be recycled for the war effort. The spirit of the messages that flooded his office, he said, is, "What more can I do to help my country in winning this war?"

After September 11, 2001, when President George W. Bush had a once-in-a-generation opportunity to summon the nation to sacrifice in addressing its energy, education and fiscal problems, he foolishly advised the country to go shopping.

In Washington, a lame-duck session of Congress has begun with an agenda that includes a looming battle over the extension of the Bush-era personal income tax cuts.

This is the moment for President Obama to call for sacrifice, the moment to tell the nation he is going to let all of the tax cuts expire; not just the tax cuts for the wealthy, the tax cuts for all of us. He should tell the Congress that he will veto a bill that extends any part of the tax cuts. This is an executive decision. It is one of the few he can take without approval of Congress.  

The president can use the bully pulpit of his office to say we all are in this financial crisis together and letting the tax cuts expire across the board is a sacrifice we all can make. Everyone will share in our national pain. He can explain this as a necessary step that will reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the next decade. 

It is hard to ask Americans to accept higher personal income tax rates in difficult times. If the tax cuts were to expire, the rates that would be effective in 2011 are not onerous. They are rates by which Americans paid income taxes during the 1990s, when the economy was doing well and the government was moving toward a balanced budget.

For many Americans, Barack Obama’s election was uplifting. He represented the hope of restoring the country’s virtues of civility, innovation and compromise. The president has struggled with these ideals against the partisanship that has gripped our government. He understands that America’s greatness is at risk and that the Washington gridlock is contributing to this. Asking each of us who pays income taxes to share in the sacrifice is a necessarily bold act he can take now that will make a difference.

President Obama has at his command an eloquence to engage Americans in a discussion about why we must sacrifice now. He can go out across in the country to make his case in town meetings, asking citizens for their ideas about how we can sacrifice to get our deficit under control and our country back on the right track. He can use his political skills to begin a movement, as the columnist David Brooks has urged, that would be organized around love of country. It is a movement that would once again elevate sacrifice as a noble American virtue and inspire citizens to ask what they can do to help.

Posted by ghostcommander
11/18/2010, 06:43 PM

If one were to consider more than one idea of taxation then one must realize that taxes need to be raised, not just let them expire.

When Reagan took office the highest marginal tax rate was 70%, he cut it to 28% and borrowed hundreds of billions of dollars increasing the National Debt 186%.

Bush Sr. increased the tax rate to 35%, continued the massive borrowing and increased the ND 62%.

Clinton inherited a very large budget from Bush Sr., increased the tax rate to 39%+ but whittled the deficit down to where the last 3 years he had budget surpluses. He only increased the ND 36%.

When bush/cheney took over they gave massive tax breaks to, mainly, the rich and very rich and went whole "hawg" on massive borrowing and increased the ND that doubled what all the previous presidents combined had created, up 98%.

Both parties can kick the can down the road and leave the debt to some other administration but now is the time to drastically increase taxes on those that can afford to pay--the rich and very rich. Develop a tax plan that would reduce our ND to zero with 25-30 years.

Posted by Sotto Voce
11/24/2010, 04:05 PM

You can make a lot of economic arguments for letting the tax cuts expire for all incomes - but the political optics won't change.

The GOP would have an absolute field day with a Democratic president who (say it with me) "raised everyone's taxes during a recession."

Hamstring his own party right after losing in the midterms?


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