CERTAIN ABOUT UNCERTAINTY, CONT’D…. When it comes to explaining the weak economy, Republicans have limited rhetorical options. They can’t blame tax increases, because there haven’t been any. They can’t blame the recession that began in 2007 on Bush, since they still support his economic policies.

So they end up talking an awful lot about “uncertainty.” Businesses would start hiring more aggressively, the argument goes, if entrepreneurs knew for sure what their tax rates would be going forward.

The argument has always been a fairly transparent sham. But in light of recent events, Jon Chait notes that the fight over tax policy represented “a perfect experimental study” of Republicans’ “actual commitment to that principle.”

Republicans wanted to end uncertainty by making the Bush tax cuts permanent. Democrats wanted to end uncertainty by making the tax cut on income below $250,000 permanent, while returning to Clinton-era tax rates on the rich. Neither had the votes for a permanent victory.

So, Republicans had a choice. They could accede to certainty with Clinton-era rates on the rich, or uncertainty with Bush-era rates on the rich. They chose uncertainty. The Bush-era rates will live on for two years, after which nobody knows if they’ll be extended or not.

For those still clinging to any naive notion that Republicans meant this as anything more than a slogan, the answer is now clear. They want low tax rates for the rich. They don’t care about certainty.

Well, no, of course not. It was always a rhetorical ploy — unfortunately, a fairly effective one — but it’s not the least bit surprising that the “uncertainty” talk was a charade.

Indeed, the agreement’s illustrative qualities don’t end there. When Republicans aren’t talking about the “uncertainty” they’re supposedly desperate to address, the GOP is prioritizing deficit reduction above all. Indeed, it was a key conservative theme of the 2010 midterms.

But notice that, just as certainty was cast aside for uncertainty, so too was deficit reduction — the tax policy agreement Republicans favor will cost hundreds of billions of dollars, all of which will be deficit financed.

Is it any wonder why it’s hard to take the GOP’s stated principles seriously?

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.