So Who Won the Fiscal Cliff Fight?

By Jan 2, 2013, 3:12 PM Author's Blog  

Obviously, former President George W. Bush.  Despite how much he has been vilified in the years since his departure from office, the Congress and the President yesterday decided to ratify almost all of his tax policy agenda.  As Joe Wiesenthal of Business Insider noted, “The difference between the Obama Tax Cuts and the Bush Tax Cuts?  Obama’s are permanent*.”  Joe also pointed out, quite astutely, that even if top marginal tax rates are not lower than in the Clinton years, taxpayers with the highest incomes are still paying lower taxes because all the tax rates below the top are lower.  Who’s laughing now?

Not me.  In over eight years of blogging, you won’t find a single word of praise for the Bush-Obama tax cuts.  As a matter of revenue, we now permanently have a tax system that will not raise enough revenue to cover our expenditures.  As a matter of policy, we continued to constrain our choices based on whether some portion of legislation that wasn’t popular enough to pass initially without explicit sunsets should be continued or not.  The proper course of action for President Obama was to allow all the sunsets to occur and then to force the Republicans to propose legislation to achieve their political objectives.  Instead, he surrendered his political advantages and handed it to them without a fight.  What an abject failure of leadership. I am reminded this year, as I was last, of a statement by Paul Tsongas in his Call to Economic Arms, “It takes toughness to lead a people toward their preservation no matter how disquieting the journey may be.”

Maybe the next step is as Brad DeLong suggests — they are now Obama’s tax cuts, so he has to find a way to fund them.  A large carbon tax to recover much of the revenue would complete the “Green Tax Swap” that I have long wanted to see.  An economist can hope, can’t he?

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