The voices of Tax Policy Center's researchers and staff
In the October 30th Democratic presidential debate, Hillary Clinton was asked what she thought of the tax reform plan offered by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.). She responded by expressing her deep admiration for the gentleman from New York and explaining that, "I don’t know all the details of what Charlie is recommending."
This, of course, is Washington-speak for "I ain't getting anywhere near this soaking puppy."
Clinton was not the only candidate in the dark. Barack Obama pled similar ignorance: "I don’t know all the details of it, and I may not agree with some of it," he said bravely.
Beyond this peculiar don't-ask-don't-tell policy discussion, the Democrats are baring a terrible weakness. They still don't know how to talk about taxes. It is a problem they have had at least since Walter Mondale's ill-fated 1984 debate with Ronald Reagan.
Republicans, by contrast, had no trouble responding to the Rangel plan. Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, for one, called it "the largest increase in the history of America."
This claim is absurd, of course. The plan is no tax increase at all and, in fact, represents a tax cut for well over 95% of taxpayers. But, in GOP-speak, any plan that raises anyone's taxes is a tax increase, even if the net impact is a tax cut. This is Orwellian, but effective.
Yet, Democrats continue to gag on tax policy. When Republicans call the Rangel plan a massive tax increase, Democrats can do no more than express their personal admiration for the Ways & Means chairman.
Sooner or later, Democrats are going to have to confront tax issues head-on. If they continue to cede the rhetorical high ground to the GOP, Democrats may not get to the White House at all. And, even if they do, they may find it impossible to govern.
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