Bungee jumping over the 'fiscal cliff'

Rather than stoking middle-class fears about the 'fiscal cliff,' the White House ought to be reassuring most Americans they can survive the fall, Reich writes.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
President Barack Obama speaks in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, on the White House campus in Washington, Wednesday about how middle class Americans would see their taxes go up if Congress fails to act to extend the middle class tax cuts. The president, Reich writes, aims to scare average Americans about how much additional taxes they’ll pay if the Bush tax cuts expire.

What’s the best way to pressure Republicans into agreeing to extend the Bush tax cuts for the middle class while ending them for the wealthy?

The President evidently believes it’s to scare average Americans about how much additional taxes they’ll pay if the Bush tax cuts expire on schedule at the end of the year. He plans to barnstorm around the country, sounding the alarm.

The White House has even set up a new Twitter hashtag: “My2K,” referring to the extra $2,200 in taxes the average family will pay if all the Bush cuts expire. Earlier this week the Council of Economic Advisers published a report detailing the awful consequences of going over the so-called “fiscal cliff.”

Excuse me for sounding impertinent, but isn’t this fear-mongering likely to buttress Republican arguments that the Bush tax cuts should be extended for everyone — including the rich? Republicans will say (as they have a thousand times before), the rich are the “job creators,” so we should tackle the budget deficit by cutting spending rather than raising anyone’s taxes. 

Obama’s real bargaining leverage now is that when the Bush tax cuts expire at the end of December, America’s wealthiest will take the biggest hit. The highest marginal income tax rate will rise from 35 to 39 percent, and the capital gains rate from 15 to 20 percent.

This is automatic. It’s the default if Republicans won’t agree to anything else. It’s Obama’s trump card.

So rather than stoking middle-class fears about this, the White House ought to be doing the opposite – reassuring most Americans they can survive the fall. In fact, to use his trump card effectively, Obama needs to convince Republicans that the middle class is willing to jump over the cliff.

And the middle class can jump over the cliff fearlessly if the White House and Democrats enact legislation that reinstates the Bush tax cuts for the middle class as of January 1.

The legislation would operate just like a bungee cord — snapping the middle class back from the precipice of paying an extra $2,200 next year, even as the wealthy go over the cliff.

The best strategy would be to introduce the legislation now, and challenge Republicans to vote on it as we get nearer and nearer the cliff. 

This would give the President’s “My2K” campaign the focus it needs — directly pressuring Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts for the middle class by voting for the bungee cord.

If Republicans won’t agree, not only do they still face the cliff’s automatic tax increases on the rich. They’re also revealed as shills for the rich who are ready to push the middle class over the precipice in pursuit of even more wealth for their patrons.

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