Now here's a distinction that the first few hundred people in the Boston phone book would probably grasp better than the folks at Harvard (or Congress): A tax increase is a tax increase. If I make the same amount of money as I did last year but pay more in taxes, then my taxes have gone up. If I pay less, my taxes have gone down. Whether the numbers moved this way or that because of closed loopholes or rejiggered tax rates, the result for me is the same. That doesn't mean tax simplification doesn't make sense, but dodging a rate hike isn't the same as dodging a tax hike.
So the Republicans are, in fact, in favor of raising taxes by the rules of the real world. In exchange for doing this, they want the Democrats to deal with the real problem: spending. You could confiscate 100 percent of income over $1 million, and it would cover about a third of the deficit (and crush the economy in the process). You'd still have deal with spending, particularly entitlement spending.
But the Democrats want to do ... nothing. Or at least that's the position they seemed to be taking this week.
The White House and the Democrats have been floating the idea that we can worry about entitlements later, if ever. The urgent thing is to raise taxes on the wealthy as soon as possible. When asked what he was prepared to cut, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Wednesday, "Now remember, we've already done more than a billion dollars worth of cuts. We've already done that. So we need to get some credit for that."
OK, here's the credit: That is about .09 percent of the deficit. Take .09 percent of a bow Harry.
Meanwhile, the GOP seems to be obsessed with Talmudic interpretations of Grover Norquist's anti-tax pledge. You see, if the Bush tax cuts expire, we'll all pay a lot more in taxes. But letting them expire wouldn't violate the pledge, while voting for a smaller net tax increase would.
As Republicans sort all that out, the guy who actually won the election by claiming he had a better plan hasn't proposed any plan at all. That's life in the Beltway for you.