Are Democrats acting like ‘terrorists’ by threatening to let the Bush tax cuts expire?

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Frustrated by their inability to raise taxes on the wealthy, Senate Democrats appear willing to embrace “Taxmageddon” — letting all of the George W. Bush tax cuts expire at the end of this calendar year.

This is a political gambit, a game of chicken, played in the hopes Republicans would either agree to raise taxes on those making more than $250,000 — or be blamed for the resulting tax increases on the middle class.

As Matthew Yglesias notes,

It’s no secret that Democrats favor more tax revenue. And lucky for them, taxes are scheduled to go up automatically in January to a level that’s higher than Democrats themselves favor. So all Democrats need to do is let taxes go up in January, and then propose to bring them back down somewhat.

Yglesias thinks this is a “smart strategy,” arguing that Democrats can use this as a strong negotiating tool if they win in November — and that if they lose, it doesn’t really matter.

In terms of a domestic sense of realpolitik, this could be smart. Democrats will portray Republicans as being to blame for the tax increases — and then turn around and tell Republicans that they can either cut some taxes, or none at all. Presented with the threat of having to vote against a tax cut, Republicans would probably be forced to vote for the Democratic plan.

Would the Democrats’ accusations be fair — or correct? No — but that’s not the point. All Democrats need do is convince the public that Republicans hate poor people (something they are quite adept at doing), and they’ll have achieved their desired ends. (Never mind that Republicans oppose ALL tax increases.)

But this game, that Democrats — such as Sen. Patty Murray — suddenly find so endearing, has very real potential consequences. If the Bush tax cuts are allowed to expire, it could have a very negative impact on an already struggling economy.

Should politicians be willing to go to the ledge of a fiscal abyss in order to score political points? This sounds like a familiar question.

During last summer’s debt ceiling negotiations, many Democrats were shocked at the Republican Party’s tactics — that they seemed willing to let the the nation default in order to get what they wanted. In response, Vice President Joe Biden reportedly called the Tea Party a bunch of “terrorists.”

Now that Democrats are the ones (figuratively) holding “guns to [Republicans] heads,” I’m sure Biden and his fellow Democratic leaders are willing to embrace the “terrorist” label.