Who Gets Blamed for Higher Taxes?

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Jon Chait responds today to a David Leonhardt column suggesting the Democrats will inevitably get blamed if the Bush tax cuts expire and everyone’s taxes go up:

The idea here is that, if taxes go up, Democrats will get stuck with the blame because everybody knows Republicans hate taxes. It’s not that Democrats wimped out, it’s that any party has to tread carefully on an issue where the other party holds a historic advantage. I think that’s the wrong analysis for a couple reasons.

….The fact is, blame for failing to extend the popular elements of the Bush tax cuts should be placed on Republicans. They’re the ones who won’t extend a bill like that without getting something (unpopular) in exchange. Instead, Democrats have simply assumed that they’ll get stuck with the blame and there’s nothing they can do about it.

Jon provides some specific reasons for thinking Dems won’t get the blame here, but we actually have a test case we can look at to see if he’s right: repeal of the 1099 reporting requirement. Democrats offered up a clean amendment a few days ago that would have ended the 1099 requirement and nothing more. No tricks, no gimmicks, just straight repeal. Most Democrats voted for it, but the amendment failed because nearly the entire Republican caucus voted against it.

So: who gets the blame for the fact that the reporting requirement is still around? It ought to be Republicans, who had a chance to vote for repeal and decided not to. But I haven’t noticed any backlash. If I had to guess, it’s because everyone knows Republicans are opposed to business regulation, so Democrats get the blame for this regardless of whether they really are to blame.

This is just a tiny little data point. And I agree with Jon’s larger argument that, in the case of taxes at least, Democrats could have won the battle easily if they’d shown a little discipline and been willing to bargain with the same toughness that Republicans do. Still, in its own tiny way, the 1099 example does suggest that Republicans aren’t likely to shoulder any of the blame for higher taxes regardless of what position they take over the next couple of weeks.

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