As part of President Obama’s renewed push to allow Bush tax cuts benefitting only the top 2 percent of earners to expire, Democrats are again calling out Republicans for holding the rest of Bush the tax cuts — which overwhelmingly benefit middle-income Americans — hostage, unless high income earners get their targeted tax cuts renewed as well.
“I want to hold taxes steady for 98 percent of Americans; Republicans say they want to do the same thing. We disagree on the other 2 percent. Well, what do you usually do if you agree on 98 percent and you disagree on 2 percent?” Obama said at a Tuesday campaign event in Iowa. “Why don’t you compromise to help the middle class? Go ahead and do the 98 percent, and we can keep arguing about the 2 percent. Let’s agree when we can agree. Let’s not hold the vast majority of Americans hostage while we debate the merits of another tax cut for the other 2 percent.”
He and other Democrats are reprising a line of attack from 2010, when Republicans held firm and ultimately won a two-year extension of all the Bush tax cuts.
The difference? This time around Mitt Romney is on the GOP ticket. And Democrats surely want him to defend this strategy of making tax cuts for everyone’s first $250,000 contingent upon securing extra tax cuts for people who make more than that.
“Why won’t they join with us to get this done?” asked Harry Reid at his Tuesday Capitol briefing with reporters. “Because they’re holding tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans hostage in order to exact even bigger tax giveaways to the top 2 percent. … I give and Mitt Romney and all the Republicans this news: they’re all doing just fine. Mitt Romney doesn’t need additional tax breaks. In fact the U.S. tax code is probably an afterthought for him given how much money he obviously has placed in Switzerland, the Cayman Islands, Bermuda.”
Other Democratic leaders have adopted the same framing, too.
“I believe strongly that middle-class tax relief ought not to be held hostage to giving big tax breaks to very wealthy people in America who need to pay a share that they are fully able to pay so we can bring our deficit down and to buy those things that we need, including national security,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer told reporters at his Tuesday briefing — his first of three mentions of the word “hostage.”
Republicans recognize that if they delink tax cuts for top earners from the rest of the Bush tax cuts, and Dems let them expire at the end of the year, renewing them will be difficult to justify — and downright impossible if Democrats win in November.
Democrats will hound them to answer for this strategy, and all of its implications, between now and November.
“I hope moving forward Republicans stop holding tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans — including the millionaires, remember? They get a tax break up to $250,000 — holding it hostage for more tax giveaways to the top two percent,” Reid said.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.