If there’s one issue on which Republican presidential hopefuls should feel vulnerable, it’s taxes. The Bush tax cuts, more than any other policy, are crippling the government financially.
...or Democratic candidates, in contrast, taxation is the issue that dare not speak its name. With the exception of John Edwards, none of the Democratic candidates list “taxes” under “issues” on their official Web sites. Hillary Clinton buries various tax proposals in a category labeled “Strengthening the Middle Class,” while most of Barack Obama’s tax ideas are under “Fighting Poverty.” Even the also-running candidates subsume tax issues under broad, bland headings.
A charitable explanation for the Democrats’ reticence is that not much of substance separates them on the issue of taxes. The front-runners, Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Edwards and Mr. Obama, all pledge to end the Bush tax cuts for the richest Americans — generally defined as people making upwards of $200,000 or so.
All three would keep the estate tax, but with multimillion-dollar exemptions to ensure that only the wealthiest Americans pay it. They’re also in general agreement on using the tax code to funnel more money to lower-income Americans — by expanding the child-care credit, for example, or boosting the earned income credit for low-income workers or introducing new tax breaks to defray the cost of college or make it easier to save for retirement.
All of that is laudable, especially when the candidates say they would target tax breaks based on fairness and need, both of which have been largely ignored in Bush tax policy. But with the nation in dire financial straits, serious tax talk circa 2007 has to do more than serve as a way to show a candidate cares about those who are struggling to make a living.
Which brings us to the less charitable, and more likely, explanation for the Democrats’ aversion to talking candidly about taxes: They don’t want to level with the American people, for fear of being felled by a barrage of anti-tax rhetoric from Republican opponents.
The Democrats are not as pie in the sky as the Republicans. Ending the Bush tax cuts for the rich would raise about $1 trillion in revenue over 10 years. Extending all the tax cuts and piling even more on top of them, as some Republicans propose, would only dig the budget hole deeper.
Still, going forward, competent governance, let alone achieving great things, will require more revenue, period.