Paul Greenberg

But would limiting tax breaks really provide enough additional revenue to reduce the federal government's increasingly unmanageable deficits? It all depends on how much of a tax break you'd allow each taxpayer to keep.

Capping all itemized deductions at $50,000 a year would mean an extra $749 billion for Uncle Sam over the next decade.

Lowering that cap on such tax breaks to $25,000 a year would raise some $1.3 trillion over the same period.

Mitt Romney had the best and fairest suggestion: Adopt an annual limit of $17,000 per taxpayer, and tax revenue would increase by some $1.7 trillion by 2022. Which would make the country's tax structure more progressive and provide more revenue for the government at the same time.

That holds true even if income tax rates were cut by 20 percent and the dreaded Alternative Minimum Tax eliminated. The AMT becomes a greater and greater drain on the country's middle class as the value of the dollar shrinks and tax-paying Americans find themselves in ever higher income brackets. The thing needed killing years ago.

Note that all these revenue estimates come not from the Heritage Foundation or Cato Institute or some other conservative think tank but the anything-but-conservative bean counters at the Tax Policy Center, a reliably left-of-center source of economic analysis. At last, something left and right, liberal or conservative, could agree on.

Problem solved. Or would be if the more partisan pols in Washington could recognize a fair -- and constructive -- compromise when they saw it. And transform gridlock into opportunity.

The biggest obstacle to such an approach may be the president's attachment to class warfare. He seems fixated on raising tax rates for those Americans making more than $250,000 a year -- even if they'd wind up actually paying more if tax breaks were limited rather than tax rates raised.

If only our president would lay aside his my-way-or-no-way pride at this critical juncture, Washington's wild Thelma-and-Louise drive over the Fiscal Cliff could come to a screeching halt just in time. But that may be too much to hope for. Ideology has a way of trumping common sense among true believers.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.