David Frum

12.31.12

Will Obama Yield on Taxes?

Jonathan Chait fears Obama has abandoned his hardline demand to restore Clinton era tax rates for those making over $250,000 a year.

The discouraging thing about the “fiscal cliff” negotiations is not that they have gone into the eleventh hour, or that they may go into the new year, or even that they won’t resolve the long-term budget deficit. It’s that President Obama has retreated on his hard line on taxes. In the months before the election, and in the weeks after his victory, Obama had a clear position: The Bush tax cuts for income over $250,000 were ending. He would not sign any extension, and if Republicans refused to extend tax cuts for income below that level, he would hold them responsible for it until they did.

Now, by all accounts, Obama is prepared to extend the Bush tax cuts up to $400,000 a year. Or maybe more. As of Friday, Obama had told Republicans they could have the tax cuts extended on income up to $400,000 if they would accept the estate tax rising from its Bush-set rates. As of last night, Democrats were conceding the estate tax plus the higher exemption on tax rates, which had risen to $450,000. And Republicans still hadn't agreed to it! Why would they, when Democrats keep hurling money at them? By midnight, Republicans might be getting the Saturday Night Live version of Obama's offer ("a 1% raise on the top two Americans -- just two people").

Looks like that fiscal cliff madman theory may be working. Then again, given the rather unmitigated failure from Republicans during last summer's debt ceiling negotiations, I won't be alone in expressing zero faith in our negotiating team.