Letting the Bush Tax Cuts Expire: The 'Adults in the Room' Defense

The Bush tax cuts are set to expire at the end of the year, and the murmur of complaint is already bubbling up. President Obama has promised since he was a candidate to let certain tax cuts expire for individuals who make over $200,000 and for couples who make over $250,000. Though the fate of the tax cuts has been set in stone, more or less, by Obama for over a year, there will inevitably be debate over what to do with them, and Obama will have to defend his stance once again.


How will he do it? Ironically, Republican gubernatorial candidate and former CEO Meg Whitman offered a pointed articulation of why not to cut taxes a few months ago, as her primary opponent in California, Steve Poizner, was calling for an across-the-board 10% tax cut. When asked about it in an interview with Fox's Neil Cavuto in April, Whitman said:

I'd say we can't afford it right now. We cannot afford an across-the-board tax cut. It's the right thing to do, but someone has to be the adult in the room here, and we cannot afford that kind of tax cut right now, not on top of a $20 billion budget deficit.

Whitman's economic agenda is different from Obama's, but it bears faint resemblance in some respects: she proposed spending cuts, followed by targeted tax cuts to stimulate job growth, followed then by an across-the-board tax cut for everyone. Obama has not cut spending (that's the big difference), but he's created a fiscal-responsibility commission that may or may not recommend he do so, and a third of the $787 billion stimulus package consisted of targeted tax cuts to stimulate demand and hiring.

It's not all that often that Democrats take messaging lessons from Republican candidates, but Whitman's "adult in the room" comment supplied the most pithy expression in the last few months of how to behave during an unsustainable fiscal condition; it's sort of a blueprint for how to argue against tax hawks. California's budget deficit stands at $19.1 billion; the national debt exceeds $13 trillion. As conservatives panic about it, maybe the White House will take a page from Whitman's playbook when the inevitable ruckus over Bush's tax cuts arrives in full.
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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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