Somewhere between approving a massive tax cut plan with an expiration date and President Obama’s election, Republicans seem to have decided that it’s Obama’s fault the tax cuts aren’t permanent.
Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS this week detailed the “seven public policy initiatives” that will be most important for Congress next year. The group runs ads against Democrats across the country.
On the list at No. 1: “Stop the Obama tax hike time bomb scheduled to detonate on January 1, 2011.”
That’s not a typo. Rove’s group is claiming that Obama set the timer on that so-called “bomb.”And in this slick video produced by the House GOP for the summer recess, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) uses the “bomb” term as well. He says there is a “ticking tax bomb that can explode on our economy and families at the end of this year.”
There’s a debate about whether it’s fair to say that an expiring tax cut amounts to a tax increase. The Washington Post is out with this nifty calculator to help you see if your taxes would go up next year under Obama’s plan, which extends the cuts for families earning $250,000 or less. A work packet for House Republicans obtained by TPM actually spells out the situation almost accurately: “Washington Democrats are poised to allow the largest tax increase in American history to take effect next year.”
The word “allow” is key — the whole point is that they were written this way.
It’s true that Obama has repeatedly insisted he’ll let them expire and rebuffed suggestions from tax-cut-friendly Democrats such as Sen. Max Baucus to extend them during this tough economic time. But is it really fair to call it a time bomb set by the president? Hardly.
Let’s roll tape.
It’s May 26, 2001, and the Senate, with just 12 Democrats on board, passes the Bush tax cuts. The House approves the tax cuts too, and 28 Democrats vote “yes.” They cost $1.35 trillion and were set to expire to comply with Congressional rules, triggered by the GOP’s use of reconciliation, that required they either expire within 10 years or not increase the deficit. So, the “tax increase” was written that way — by Republicans.
June 7, 2001. President Bush signs the tax cuts, seemingly unaware of the ticking time bomb within. He declared:
A year ago tax relief was said to be a political impossibility. Six months ago it was supposed to be a political liability. Today it becomes reality. It becomes reality because of the bipartisan leadership of the Members of the United States Congress, Members like Bill Thomas of California, Ralph Hall of Texas, Charles Grassley of Iowa, Max Baucus of Montana, Zell Miller of Georgia, John Breaux of Louisiana, Trent Lott of Mississippi and the entire leadership team in the Senate, and Denny Hastert of Illinois and the leadership team in the House of Representatives–some Democrats, many Republicans–who worked tirelessly and effectively to produce this important result.
In 2003, the Republican-controlled Congress approved another tax cut measure, which accelerated some of the benefits they’d put in place the year before. That also was set to expire.
Fast forward to Bush’s 2008 State of the Union address, when he urged Democrats controlling Congress to make his tax cuts permanent:
Unless Congress acts, most of the tax relief we’ve delivered over the past seven years will be taken away. Some in Washington argue that letting tax relief expire is not a tax increase. Try explaining that to 116 million American taxpayers who would see their taxes rise by an average of $1,800.
This is going to be a major topic of debate this fall before the midterm elections. Of the 12 Democratic senators who backed the tax cuts nine years ago, 7 are still serving. Baucus already has made his preference known. The others? Sens. Blanche Lincoln (AR), Ben Nelson (NE), Dianne Feinstein (CA), Tim Johnson (SD), Herb Kohl (WI) and Mary Landrieu (LA). (Sen. Arlen Specter, then a Republican, also voted for the tax cuts.)
[Ed. note: this post was edited after publication.]