Obama Tax Cut Deal Is a Bad Bargain

Congress shouldn’t have been forced to pay off the rich to save the struggling.

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There’s a common view in politics and in business that if nearly everyone is unhappy with a negotiated package, it must be good. That is not the case, unfortunately, with the massive tax cut extension the House approved late Thursday night.

The $858 billion package will do lots to increase the deficit, but Americans won’t feel the move as an actual tax cut. The measure merely extends the Bush-era tax cuts (inexplicably instituted during wartime, when historically, Americans have been asked to make sacrifices, not offered government rebates). Republicans are absolutely correct in noting that allowing the cuts to expire would indeed feel like a tax increase to individuals. But that’s a political problem, and one Congress has solved by worsening another problem, the federal deficit.

[See 10 things you didn't know about the Bush tax cuts.]

Rep. Peter DeFazio, Democrat of Oregon, had it right: “There is no such thing as a temporary tax cut. I hope the White House is listening. They’re about to spring the trap.”

Many Republicans didn’t like the deal, either--but only because it didn’t extend the tax cuts permanently, even for the wealthiest Americans. This is a specious argument, since it’s so politically difficult to undo a program when it might require some kind of sacrifice--be it something as fiscally insignificant as a congressional earmark or as deficit-boosting as the tax cuts--that it’s unlikely Congress will ever be able to do it.

In the end, lawmakers were presented with a brutal choice: vote it down, and deny extended unemployment benefits to some of the most vulnerable Americans, or vote for the package, pushing the serious fiscal and national security problem of the deficit and the debt off to yet another Congress. They shouldn’t have been forced to pay off the rich to save the struggling.

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