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The golden rule of politics: Never let your opponent frame the debate. Not quite, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, but work with me here, this is Washington.
The biggest battle for position is currently over the Bush tax cuts. Democrats are attempting to frame the debate so that Republicans are up to their old tricks, helping the rich at the expense of the poor.
Paul Krugman’s latest column pretty much sums up the liberal storyline.
We need to pinch pennies these days. Don’t you know we have a budget deficit? For months that has been the word from Republicans and conservative Democrats, who have rejected every suggestion that we do more to avoid deep cuts in public services and help the ailing economy.
But these same politicians are eager to cut checks averaging $3 million each to the richest 120,000 people in the country.
There are two enormous rhetorical flaws with this approach that I’d like to address. First, Democrats attempt to single out the rich is purely a partisan word game. Contrary to the favoring the rich philosophy Democrats keep pushing, Republicans want to extend the Bush tax cuts for everyone. Second, for Republicans, reducing government spending is the end, reducing the deficit happens to be a beneficial byproduct of achieving that end.
Republicans aren’t the party of the rich. We’re not looking out for their interests at the expense of everyone else’s. No, we’re simply maintaining ideological consistency. We want everyone to be able to keep as much of their money in their pocket as they can. Democrats myopia neglects the fact that they agree with Republicans on almost all of the tax cuts. But rather than admit to the consistency they employ a clever rhetorical trick that makes them look really good and Republicans really bad. Keith Hennessy explained the language trick today in his blog,
Most DC Democrats try to have it both ways – they talk about “preventing tax increases on the middle class” but oppose “extending tax cuts for the rich.” This rhetorical inconsistency masks a parallel situation in law and policy. Either they’re both extending tax cuts, or they’re both preventing tax increases.
Same action, different verb. Regardless of which tack you choose, let’s at least be intellectually honest. Of course, such parallels don’t help Democrats with their message. “Promoting tax cuts for everyone “is not nearly as provocative as “extending tax cuts for the rich.” The fact is Republicans aren’t out to rob from the poor to give to the rich. We’re out to stop the government from robbing from anyone at all. And sadly that is exactly what the debate has devolved into.
When it comes to deficits, private citizen’s money is only viewed through the lens of government need. As Hennessey explains,
In this view of the world, revenues belong to the government and are allocated by policymakers as gifts to those who need or deserve them. When you hear that “we cannot afford to cut taxes” and “we should not give tax cuts to ______,” you are hearing this philosophy.
The problem with this philosophy is that ultimately, whatever the government spends, is not in and of itself government money. Citizens are relatively happy to donate a portion of their income to the government to ensure that certain infrastructure gets built, and certain services get done. However, citizen’s money should not be used as merely a subsidy for the largesse of our government. The debate must never be framed in such a way that the moral imperative lies with taxpayers to pay for the expenditures of its government. The imperative always lies with government to justify its expenditures in the context of how much it is taking from taxpayers.
Can the government justify its current spending levels? If not, can they justify asking more from any taxpayer before first looking for places to cut?
That concept it tied closely with the second fallacy of Democrats’ attempt to frame the debate over extending the tax cuts. Republicans are deeply concerned about the deficit. However, we recognize that the deficit problem is part and parcel of the greater government spending problem. As Congressman Mike Pence said recently on Meet the Press,
“I think it’s apples and oranges. Here in Washington, DC they talk about tax cuts the same way they talk about spending increases as if the government owned all the money…I think deciding on a government spending increase is very different on whether or not we allow American people to keep more of their hard-earned tax dollars.”
That is the fundamental difference that Democrats fail to grasp. Republicans are all for lowering the deficit, but they aren’t for raising taxes to do it, especially not when government spending is at its highest point in history.
Moreover, let’s dispel the notion that Democrats are truly concerned about the tax cuts impact on the deficit. They are always the first to cite the Tax Policy Center’s figure that extending the tax cuts for the “rich” would take away $680 billion in potential revenue over the next 10 years. What you never hear them say is that the cost in lost revenue of extending the total package of tax cuts is $3.1 trillion. Then again Democrats justify the cuts for the rest of society by saying that they will stimulate consumer demand so that we can escape the recession. Fortunately Gerry Connolly (D-VA) has the perfect response: “it’s important for members to remember the top 5 percent of earners generates 30 percent of consumer spending.”
In other words, if Democrats really believe their own logic, then we get the biggest bang for our buck would come from extending tax relief to everyone. Then again, as we discussed earlier, internal consistency is not exactly Democrats’ strong suit.
by Brandon Greife, Political Director of the College Republican National Committee