It's On: Conservatives Duke It Out Over Tax Deal

Posted: Dec 10, 2010 1:04 PM
In one corner -- the great Charles Krauthammer: Why, this tax deal is a massive backdoor second stimulus that Republicans are foolish to support!

If Obama had asked for a second stimulus directly, he would have been laughed out of town. Stimulus I was so reviled that the Democrats banished the word from their lexicon throughout the 2010 campaign. And yet, despite a very weak post-election hand, Obama got the Republicans to offer to increase spending and cut taxes by $990 billion over two years. Two-thirds of that is above and beyond extension of the Bush tax cuts but includes such urgent national necessities as windmill subsidies.

No mean achievement. After all, these are the same Republicans who spent 2010 running on limited government and reducing debt. And this budget busting occurs less than a week after the president's deficit commission had supposedly signaled a new national consensus of austerity and frugality.

Some Republicans are crowing that Stimulus II is the Republican way - mostly tax cuts - rather than the Democrats' spending orgy of Stimulus I. That's consolation? This just means that Republicans are two years too late. Stimulus II will still blow another near-$1 trillion hole in the budget.

Hugh Hewitt agrees, and also points to several (admittedly alarming) headlines indicating that Senate Republicans may be preparing to ratify the destructive new START treaty as evidence that the GOP is rolling over.  The Club for Growth is also in the "Just Say No" camp -- although they say they won't challenge Republicans who vote for the deal.

In the other corner -- the great Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI):  Actually, our tax deal is not a new stimulus at all, and is worth supporting!

Other prominent conservatives throwing their weight behind the compromise are FreedomWorks (suggesting that the grassroots/Tea Party movement is deeply divided on the question), the National Taxpayers Union, Americans for Tax Reform, and respected conservative economist Keith Hennessey -- who calls the deal imperfect, but a "total and complete policy win."  NRO's Jonah Goldberg, while expressing profound admiration for Krauthammer, questions "Dr. K's" thesis and his math (with Rush Limbaugh reportedly citing Jonah's piece favorably on his show):

How does maintaining the status quo (and raising the estate tax from its current level) pump new money into the economy?  Also, I understand that for deficit accounting, many people buy into the idea that tax cuts are indistinguishable from spending increases. But that seems like a separate argument from whether or not this deal provides a second, even bigger, stimulus.

CNN has a fun round-up of a few of the improbable political alliances this accord has forged.  Philip Klein tweets the question of the day:  "Is it now RINO to support the tax deal?"  To help sort through that question, the Wall Street Journal editorial board offers a characteristically sharp take on the controversy.  It's long, but well worth the read.  A taste:

Democrats on Capitol Hill have had two years to avoid this day of tax reckoning, yet they kicked the tough vote into a lame duck session. They proceeded to lose a modern record of 63 House seats. Then when a Democratic President seeks to spare the country a huge tax increase by cutting a deal with the soon-to-be-majority Republicans, the losers try to bust up the economy and the Obama Presidency on their way out of town.

This is also a revealing exercise in sheer ideological willfulness. To the modern liberal mind, the Bush-era tax rates have taken on quasi-religious significance. A tax rate even as high as 35% on estates and upper income earners isn't nearly enough to honor this god. Even if all of the tax cuts are extended on lower earners, and even if jobless benefits are extended for 13 more months, House Democrats won't make the trade because their highest policy principle is to redistribute wealth and income. They want to punish the successful, no matter the economic damage.

As for Republicans, they have already given up an enormous amount to get what is essentially the status quo on tax policy. They get a two-year reprieve against tax increases on capital and income, and two years of death taxes at 35% instead of 55%. This spares the economy from immediate tax harm while it is still emerging from recession, but this deal is nothing close to a genuine pro-growth, supply-side tax policy....Republicans would be fools to give Democrats a single new concession, even a token one.

Parting thought:  Although this post focuses almost exclusively on Center-Right infighting, the battle on the Left is far more bruising and highly entertaining.  Obama vs. Schumer = Crazy Delicious.