Nothing's Certain But Death And Taxes (And Arguing About Them)

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on The Brian Lehrer Show, guest host Isaac-Davy Aronson had Jake Tapper, senior White House correspondent for ABC News, on air to discuss what the House Democrats are thinking about the Bush Tax Cuts.

The clock is ticking on the expiration of the tax cuts former President Bush issued back in 2001 and 2003, and the age-old fight between Republicans and Democrats over the right amount of taxes to keep the American government running and the economy chugging is raging again in Congress.

President Obama has proposed extending so called "middle class tax cuts" for individuals who make up to $250,000, which would cost the federal government about $3 trillion dollars over the next ten years. For those lucky enough to make in excess of that, under Obama's proposal, they would get a tax break on their first $250,000, but have to pay a higher rate on the rest.

But Tapper says that in the discourse about "fairness," both parties are skipping over a major truth: the deficit is ballooning, and as former Obama budget chief Peter Orszag wrote in an op-ed, we can't really afford any of these cuts, even for the middle class. Tapper told Aronson that everyone in Congress is advocating deficit spending, it's just a matter of how much:

"And that is what I find the most remarkable thing about this debate. Because it is so wildly irresponsible, even if you support them, you should tell the American people they're going to cost 3 to 4 trillion dollars depending on which platform you support."

In a sign of Congress' short-term memory loss, former President Bush was criticized for increasing the deficit with his tax cuts. This time, no one seems to think that's worth talking about. Republicans are locking knees to fight any tax increase tooth and nail, basically saying that in a recession, taxes shouldn't be raised on anyone. Obama says the extension of the tax cuts for the wealthy would cost $700 billion over the next ten years, and there are better ways to spend that money. Yet, Tapper noted that Obama has not promised that the money brought in would go to reduce the deficit. It's possible those funds would be used for something else.

When House Republican leader John Boehner gave a little ground on Sunday by saying he would vote for Obama's proposal if he had no other choice, Senate Republicans immediately responded with a proposal for legislation that in effect told Boehner, "Eat your words!"  Tapper said we should be prepared for a loud fight, maybe all the way up to the December 31 expiration date.

"Boehner went out on a limb to say that and he turned around and saw that a lot of other Republicans were sawing the limb off the tree."

When the conversation today was opened up to callers, one high-income bracket individual chimed into say that he would be happy to contribute his income taxes for the benefit of the country, even though he would incur a loss of $30,000. But in a counterpoint that is a microchism of the Congressional debate, Mike, from Newark, disagreed:

"Unlike your other two callers I'm not a masochist, I don't want my money going to Washington. The way to reduce the deficit is to grow the economy and cut spending. Neither of those are going to happen. I want to hold onto my money. Mine would go up three grand. Maybe that's not a lot to the Manhattan and Pound Ridge people, if they're so generous they can pay more and more and more. I'm holding on to my money."

Mike said he would stimulate the economy with his three grand by buying art, good wine, and rare orchids.

Call who you will a "sadist" or "masochist," the only hard truth is there is a deadline. "If nobody blinks then they all expire at the end of the year and there are a lot of economists who think that would be bad for the economy," Tapper said.