'The Obama Tax Cuts'

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The power of messaging has its limits.

For some weeks, liberal writers have wondered why the president hadn't re-branded the Bush tax cuts as The Obama Tax Cuts. Indeed, when President Obama puts his signature on the next tax bill, it will be his law. When a president signs a bill, it's his. End of story.

But now that Democrats have semi-officially changed the name to "the Obama tax cuts for the middle class," I'm wondering what problem this was supposed to solve. The Obama tax cuts do not "turn the page" on the Bush tax cuts. Quite the opposite. The fact that they extend the Bush tax cuts for 98 percent of all taxpayers is a repeatedly quoted part of their appeal. The message, I guess, is: meet the new tax cuts, 98 percent the same as the old tax cuts.

When I hear about the Obama Tax Cuts, I start thinking about the actual Obama tax cuts: the $120 billion Making Work Pay program and the stimulus incentives, the HIRE Act exempting payroll taxes for new employees, the soon-to-be-law small business tax breaks. Those tax cuts are children born of the recession. The Bush tax cuts Obama tax cuts are troublesome foster children, half-grown and thrust onto us by awkward circumstance. The president might not want to own them, but his name is on them, and pretty soon his signature will be, too.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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