Monday, July 28, 2003

Democrats Embrace Tax Talk: Washington Post

Democrats Not Shying Away From Tax Talk Candidates Discuss Raises, Not Cuts

Democratic presidential candidates are following the politically risky strategy of embracing tax increases as key parts of their economic agendas, hoping to make mounting federal deficits and President Bush's economic stewardship major issues in the 2004 campaign.

When Bush signed his third tax cut into law last month, the legislation was supposed to put Democratic candidates in a political bind. They could no longer say they favored delaying or canceling future tax cuts, because the legislation put those planned cuts into law immediately.

But the candidates have shown little reluctance to reverse tax cuts already in force. Although they couch it as "rolling back" Bush's tax policies, virtually all the major Democratic candidates say they would raise taxes on some or all of those who pay income tax. The proposals range from repealing all the tax cuts enacted in the past three years to raising taxes only on the wealthiest Americans.

"Most Americans would gladly pay the same taxes they paid under President Bill Clinton if they could just get the Clinton economy back," said former Vermont governor Howard Dean, one of the leaders in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. "People are not stupid out there."

The new tack on taxes is a switch from recent years, when Democrats countered widespread Republican tax cut proposals with modest tax reduction plans of their own. Democratic candidates have been wary of tax increase pledges ever since Walter F. Mondale's tax promises proved disastrous in his 1984 campaign against President Ronald Reagan. But, Democrats say, they also have a more positive role model in Clinton, who campaigned in 1992 on tax increases for the wealthy and tax cuts for the middle class.

This time around, Democratic candidates believe they can frame the debate in the broader context of Bush's economic and fiscal stewardship, and can convince voters that some tax increases are necessary to reverse the government's rising tide of red ink and revive job growth. Jim Jordan, who manages Sen. John F. Kerry's campaign, said Kerry (Mass.) does not relish making tax increases a fundamental piece of his platform, but the senator's attacks on Bush policies made taxes an inevitable issue.

Data from Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg suggest anger over taxation is aimed not so much at individual burdens but at a pervasive sense that corporations and the rich are not paying their fair share. "It's not a question of how much but who pays," Jordan said.

I think there is room to talk about tax increases. The trick is in the wording. Words like "repeal," "reverse," "roll back," etc are death words. They should use the word "restore," which has a much more positive ring to it. "I, John Kerry, want to retore to the American people, what this administration has taken and given to friends and wealthy corporations." That sounds better than repealing or increasing anything.

Another key would be to avoid the whole tax debate all together. If it comes up, say that taxation as a key to economic policy is based on the faulty idea that an economic recovery and maintenance plan is solely based on taxes. Then go on and spout your plan, is how I would advise them.

Even if the economy begins to recover, that means that mortgages will begin to go up and housing numbers look negative. So if Bush says, economic growth is at 3%, they say, but housing starts are down three months in a row, or mortages have risen 8 percentage points resulting in thousands of dollars for the average American home buyer. Even if there is economic growth, it is unlikely that all the people who lost jobs in the past three years of this administration's failed economic policy, would be at work, so the job imbalance in Bush's tenure is always a benefit.

Another Bush weakness is in "the buck doesn't stop here" process that the White House runs. Bush needs to take responsibility for the incompetence of his staff and undermining the credibility of the State of the Union speech, the President of the United States' most important annual speech.


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