Giving the GOP what it wants on taxes isn’t ‘middle ground’

GIVING THE GOP WHAT IT WANTS ON TAXES ISN’T ‘MIDDLE GROUND’…. One of the key debates of the day is what to do about tax rates due to expire, and at this morning’s White House press conference, a reporter asked President Obama whether there’s “room for a middle ground” with Republicans over tax policy, “whereby, for example, the tax cuts on the wealthy could be extended for a period of time and then allowed to expire?”

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Obama responded with what I saw as a pretty strong answer. In fact, he did a nice job characterizing his position as the consensus approach: “[M]y position is, let’s get done what we all agree on. What they’ve said is they agree that the middle-class tax cuts should be made permanent. Let’s work on that. Let’s do it. We can have a further conversation about how they want to spend an additional $700 billion to give an average of $100,000 to millionaires. That, I think, is a bad idea.

“If you were going to spend that money, there are a lot better ways of spending it, but more to the point, these are the same folks who say that they’re concerned about the deficits. Why would we borrow money on policies that won’t help the economy and help people who don’t need help?”

He added that lower rates for the middle class is “something that we can all agree to. Why hold it up? Why hold the middle class hostage in order to do something that most economists don’t think makes sense?”

Excellent. It’s politics and good policy.

But what stood out for me was the wording of the question. House and Senate GOP leaders said this week that they have an idea for a “deal”: Obama would agree to extend the tax breaks for the rich for two years, and then Republicans would demand in 2012 that the lower rates be made permanent. As part of the “deal,” the GOP would get everything they want for now, and then fight to get more of what they want during the next presidential election. That, of course, isn’t much of a “deal.”

Some political reporters, however, seem confused about this. This morning’s question said giving Republicans exactly what they want represents the “middle ground.” As Atrios noted on Wednesday, even the New York Times described the president’s policy as rejecting “a compromise.”

This is absurd. Indeed, here’s a better framework to consider: some want to raise everyone’s taxes, some want to cut everyone’s taxes. Obama’s vision is a compromise: lower rates for the middle class and lower class, while allowing the wealthiest Americans’ top rate to return on schedule.

The president’s approach, in other words, is the “middle ground.”