The limit of loyal Bushies’ foresight

THE LIMIT OF LOYAL BUSHIES’ FORESIGHT…. Nearly a decade ago, the Bush White House and congressional Republicans slashed tax rates, assuring Americans that the policy would create millions of jobs, keep a balanced budget, and generate robust economic growth.

The plan was a rather spectacular failure. On job creation, Bush’s record was the worst since the Great Depression. On balancing the budget, Bush racked up the biggest deficits ever, and added $5 trillion to the debt, en route to being labeled “the most fiscally irresponsible president in the history of the republic” by his comptroller general. Promises about robust growth proved to be entirely wrong.

But the policy apparently isn’t going anywhere. The Bush White House included an expiration date on its own plan, which helped obscure the policy’s cost, but under the assumption that by 2010, policymakers would just keep their policy going. Howard Kurtz noted yesterday that Bushies feel as if they set a “trap” that worked.

“We knew that, politically, once you get it into law, it becomes almost impossible to remove it,” says Dan Bartlett, Bush’s former communications director. “That’s not a bad legacy. The fact that we were able to lay the trap does feel pretty good, to tell you the truth.”

This attitude is apparently not uncommon. Former White House Chief of Staff Andy Card made comments similar to Bartlett’s, and Karl Rove boasted that “we’ve known this was going to be happening for a decade.”

Kurtz sees this as a well-executed plan. The “sunset” provision that would cause the rates to expire served as “a political time bomb: At some point in the way distant future, Democrats could be accused of raising taxes if they tried to undo the Bush breaks and return to Clinton-era levels of taxation.”

But here’s the detail that shouldn’t go overlooked: Republicans actually lost this debate. President Obama staked out a middle-ground position — permanent cuts for the middle-class; Clinton-era top rates for the wealthy — and Americans agreed that this is the best approach.

Bartlett and his cohorts make it sound as if the notion of letting Bush-era rates expire would prove to be too politically perilous for anyone to even consider — but that happens to be entirely wrong. The vast majority of the public disagrees with the Republican tax policy, and that majority has been steady for months.

Indeed, as recently as a few months ago, leading GOP lawmakers, including the incoming House Speaker, were prepared to go along with the Democratic plan. Dems didn’t fall in the “trap”; thanks to Obama’s policy, they figured out a way to go around it.

At least, they had figured that out. Congressional Dems ultimately balked at getting this done before the elections, and now the White House has been pushed into a corner. But putting this aside, for all the Bushies’ gloating, it’s worth remembering their failure to convince the public should matter, at least a little.

As for Rove’s boast that he’s “known this was going to be happening for a decade,” he also thought Bush’s failed tax policy would work policy wonders for a decade, too. Since the policy failed miserably, his powers of foresight remain largely unimpressive.