Why Should Obama Compromise on Taxes?

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To judge by this story in the Washington Post, you'd think House Speaker John Boehner is ready to lead Republicans toward a new era of bipartisan cooperation:

Republicans are "willing to accept new revenues," Boehner said, suggesting he is willing to break with the orthodoxy of many influential Republicans out of a desire to "do what's best for our country."

But it turns out that by "new revenues" Boehner isn't referring to President Obama's plan to raise tax rates on the rich. Rather, like Mitt Romney, Boehner is a fierce champion of conveniently-unspecified-magical-loophole-closing.

There are certainly lots of loopholes worth closing, and if Boehner and Obama can agree on some big ones that should be closed (unlikely), I say go for it. But if Boehner thinks Obama should do this instead of raising tax rates for the rich, I have a question: Why would Obama do that?

The Bush tax cuts are set to expire for everyone at the end of the year. Obama wants to let them expire only on households making more than $250,000 a year (that's his "tax hike for the rich" -- returning tax rates paid by the rich to pre-Bush levels). Joshua Green in Businessweek lays out the path to getting this done:

Obama can propose a "middle-class tax cut" for the 98 percent of American households earning less than $250,000 a year -- while letting the Bush tax cuts expire for those earning more -- and dare the Republicans to block it. If they do, everyone's taxes will rise on Jan. 1.

Does John Boehner want to be seen as raising taxes for all Americans because he couldn't stand the thought of confining the burden to the 2 percent of Americans who could bear it without breaking a sweat? Boehner would do this after voters rejected a Republican presidential candidate precisely because he was seen as sacrificing the interests of ordinary Americans for the interests of the rich? As Clint Eastwood was once famous for saying (back before he was famous for talking to empty chairs): Make my day.

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Robert Wright is the author of The Evolution of God and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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