We need to pinch pennies these days. Don't you know we have a budget deficit?
For months that has been the word from Republicans and conservative Democrats, who have rejected every suggestion that we do more to avoid deep cuts in public services and help the ailing economy.
But these same politicians are eager to cut checks averaging $3 million each to the richest 120,000 people in the country.
What — you haven't heard about this proposal?
Actually, you have: I'm talking about demands that we make all of the Bush tax cuts, not just those for the middle class, permanent.
Some background: Back in 2001, when the first set of Bush tax cuts was rammed through Congress, the legislation was written with a peculiar provision — namely, that the whole thing would expire, with tax rates reverting to 2000 levels, on the last day of 2010.
Why the cutoff date? In part, it was used to disguise the fiscal irresponsibility of the tax cuts: lopping off that last year reduced the headline cost of the cuts, because such costs are normally calculated over a 10-year period. It also allowed the Bush administration to pass the tax cuts using reconciliation — yes, the same procedure that Republicans denounced when it was used to enact health reform — while sidestepping rules designed to prevent the use of that procedure to increase long-run budget deficits.
Obviously, the idea was to go back at a later date and make those tax cuts permanent. But things didn't go according to plan.
And now the witching hour is upon us.
So what's the choice now? The Obama administration wants to preserve those parts of the original tax cuts that mainly benefit the middle class — which is an expensive proposition in its own right — but to let those provisions benefiting only people with very high incomes expire on schedule. Republicans, with support from some conservative Democrats, want to keep the whole thing.