Why Senate Democrats Are Afraid of the Bush Tax Cuts

Senate Democrats delayed a vote on extending the Bush tax cuts until after the election. The reason given? Republicans' lack of cooperation. This is what is formerly known as deflecting, and what is commonly known as hooey. Senate Democrats didn't vote on their bill, the Taxpayer Certainty and Relief Act, because they don't want to take a vote they don't know they can win.

The TCRA permanently extends the Bush tax cuts for the middle class and let rates rise on the rich. It is the realization of Obama's original campaign promise, but in this political atmosphere -- with conservatives resurgent, uncertainty surging, and unemployment sticky -- moderate Democrats have discussed peeling away from the caucus, in both the House and Senate.

Blue Dogs and conservative Democrats are leaning toward something more like Sen. Mitch McConnell's bill, which would take the Bush tax rates, freeze them in carbonite, and shrink the estate tax on top of that.

This is, once again, a totally surreal debate. Controlling the deficit with permanent historically low tax rates is basically impossible without draconian cuts to federal programs and Social Security in the next decade. Any vote for permanent extension in November will be a vote for a lot of pain later.

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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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