What an extraordinary admission comes toward the end of today's New York Times editorial:
higher taxes for top earners is necessary for the nation to begin to raise the revenue it needs. And until the rich pay more, there will never be a national consensus for tax increases on middle-income Americans, which will eventually be needed to further curb long-term deficits.
If you can get past the subject-verb agreement problem — it should be higher taxes for top earners are necessary, because the word taxes is plural — this is really something. For years Democratic politicians like President Obama and Senator Kerry have been promising voters that they just want to raise taxes on the "rich," not the middle class. If they offer reasons, they relate to deficit reduction or fairness. Now the Times, the flagship of left-of-center opinion, is basically acknowledging that that promise is a phony one, and that, as Republicans have often charged, those who say they want to increase taxes on just some people are really going to wind up increasing them on everyone. And the reason the Times gives for raising taxes on the rich is to make additional, broader tax increases politically possible.
One reason this two-step is rarely explained so openly is that, politically, it's a loser. Usually doing something painful or unpopular leads to a positive payoff. Eat your vegetables and you get dessert. Fight and win the war and you get peace and security. In this case, it's a double downer: for a politician who makes a tough vote in Congress to raise taxes on families making more than $250,000 a year, the reward is that the politician then gets to vote to raise taxes a second time, on "middle income Americans"?
Sure, the Times holds out the prospect of an eventual reward: "further curb of long-term deficits." But that makes sense only if one believes that the politicians will use increased tax revenues (if they do indeed materialize from rate increases) to pay down debt rather than to fund additional spending. Good luck with that.