B**lshit: Better to screw everybody than to cut taxes for the rich?

There’s been much press the past several days over the Obama administration’s new “tax framework.” Republicans love it (perhaps love is too strong), Democrats don’t like it (that may not be strong enough), and the administration is confident it will eventually become a bill signed into law. If you’ve just awoken from a coma, this is the gist:

  • “Bush-era” tax cuts will be extended for everyone for the next 2 years (yes, even for the rich)
  • Unemployment benefits will be extended for 13 months (yes, this will be expensive)
  • Payroll taxes will be reduced for employees by 2% (yes, you should be happy AND nervous)
  • The estate tax rate will decrease to 35%, with an exemption for the first 5 million dollars (no, this will very likely never effect you; sorry)
  • This will “cost” 700 billion dollars. Or 900 billion dollars. Or some other amount, depending on the source (yes, “cost” is in quotes on purpose)

So those are, in a very general sense, the facts; facts that have been held up, spit on, spun, deflated, exaggerated, and even outright ignored, which is why I am calling bullshit on [almost] everyone involved.

This is not a game

Several weeks ago the Democrats–in their perpetually ineffective way–tried to gain some ground by accusing the Republicans of holding the middle class and the unemployed hostage to get tax cuts for the rich. It was true; it also fell on deaf ears. Why? Because the public isn’t interested in republican tactics so long as the impact on their bottom-line is top of mind. Sorry Democrats, but you suck at the game of PR and public opinion (as much as it pains me to say it). Next time, speak up.

Republicans, for their part, promised to block any legislation that came down the pipe until the issue of taxes was settled, deftly blaming it on the Democrats for being unreasonable bullies. “Tax cuts for all, or tax cuts for none.” Seems reasonable from the sidelines. Is it? Of course not. But it doesn’t matter what’s right or reasonable or in the ACTUAL best interest of this country; all that matters is public perception, because American politics has become–sorry to say–one giant, dangerous game of chess.

Complicating matters is that our attention span will only allow for a game of checkers; and so, in response, the GOP is playing checkers. Of course, the Democrats are still playing chess, confusing the hell out of everyone, and irritated by the fact that we don’t really understand the rules. They seem to think if we just keep playing we’ll magically “get it.” I have a better idea: stop playing games. Legislate; or retire and let someone who’s not the average age of a very expensive bottle of wine participate in crafting a future that you will very likely not be around to see.

A Spade is still a spade, even if you call it a hairbrush

On a radio show Thursday night, I listened to Lamar Alexander reprimand the host for calling these “tax cuts for the rich” while in the very same breath insisting if no bill is passed it will be the “largest tax increase in history.” What? Let’s get something straight, Mr. Alexander: the original legislation was tax relief for a finite amount of time. Resetting the rates was built into the legislation, the magnitude of which is directly proportional to the ridiculous drop in the original bill (the ACTUAL largest in history, I believe).

This is not the result of an Obama, or even a Democratic Congress initiative; this is the result of savvy–perhaps deceitful–political strategy played out by Republicans to position them for a future election cycle. Bravo; and shame on you. The future of the American public is not your sandbox. We’re not paying you to run strategies solely designed to perpetuate the authority of your individual party; leading me to the main point:

This isn’t really about taxes

For as much as I would like to be able to say these issues simply are what they are and all we need to do is sift through the garbage to figure it all out, I think we all know that just isn’t the case. This isn’t about taxes any more than opposition to healthcare reform is about improving access to affordable, quality care or No Child Left Behind is about making sure all kids can read. This debate, like everything else, is about a much longer range political agenda. In this case, it’s about the elections in 2012.

Republicans want Obama to be a one-term president; they have publicly acknowledged as much. So what will they do? They will block legislation, pass judgement and blame, assign responsibility to anyone close enough to pin, and then cry foul when someone brings it up. Democrats are the same, though perhaps not as conniving. Then again, maybe they are. What they’re not, however, is good enough at spinning to pull the wool over their base’s eyes; or to pull the wool off their base’s eyes when their panties get twisted and they want to believe something is rotten in Denmark when, in fact, it’s not. Like now.

Republicans are looking for notches in their belts and ammunition in their guns. They’ll take one, the other, or both. They don’t care and they aren’t interested in the long term effect on the whole of this country; mostly because they don’t have the peripheral vision to see the entire picture.

Democrats aren’t much better. They have grand philosophical visions and, like Veruca Salt, they want it all, and they want it now. They do a fantastically terrible job explaining in concrete terms the real-world consequences, and they fail to call bullshit on their opponents when they spin half-truths and outright lies. Political correctness? There is no time for that. This is serious business and they are not taking us seriously.

At the end of the day (which was yesterday) …

We have reached a critical point in the current political cycle; one that is new-ish for many of our present political leaders: the era of cooperation. It hasn’t been seen in Washington since Clinton. It hasn’t been welcomed since well before that; and most of our politicians suck at it. Still, it is what it is, like it or not. And for those of you that think Obama has sold out, given up, caved in, flinched; you’re just not paying attention. The middle class stand to gain more from this agreement than we would have had the law remained the same for us and reset for the wealthy. (Something that, I should add, would not have happened under the current balance of power … so do us all a favor and stop pretending.)

The truth is this: large systems require cooperation to remain healthy. Without cooperation you get cancer; and where there’s cancer, there’s death. It’s fairly straight forward, even without a law degree. Unfortunately, cooperation has been decidedly missing in our political system for more than a decade and we are all feeling the effects.

For those that would argue we could have done better, gotten more, spent less, been fine maintaining the status quo in spite of a crippled economy, I have but a single word: Bullshit.

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