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George W. Bush Seeks To Bolster Support for Tax Cuts—by Distancing Himself from Them

Say what you will about the former president, at least he seems to have a sense of humor:

President Bush, right, makes remarks during the re-dedication ceremony of the Islamic Center of Washington in Washington, Wednesday, June 27, 2007. Center Director Dr. Abdullah Khouj is at left. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Gerald Herbert
President Bush, right, makes remarks during the re-dedication ceremony of the Islamic Center of Washington in Washington, Wednesday, June 27, 2007. Center Director Dr. Abdullah Khouj is at left. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

"'First of all, it’s too bad they call them the Bush tax cuts,' the former president joked in an interview this morning with Matt Lauer on NBC’s 'Today' show. 'They might have a better chance of being extended if they were the Lauer tax cuts.'"

On that point, he may be right. But the president seems to have more than just a sense of humor—for all the criticisms of his communication skills, he seems to have the gist exactly correct: "'Most new jobs are created by small businesses,' Mr. Bush said. 'Many small businesses pay tax at the individual income tax level…therefore, if you raise the top rate, you’re taxing job creators.'

But let's not oversimplify. The economic issues at stake when negotiating the complexities of creating a tax code are devilishly complicated. Among them: arriving at a tax structure that maximizes revenue, promotes growth and employment, and incentivizes the kinds of economic activity that are likely to be beneficial to the economy in the long term, such as R&D. And this is, of course, by no means a comprehensive list.

Also, there are all the attendant issues involved concerning income distribution, and "social justice"—whatever those phrases may or may not mean to you.

Not to mention, there is far from universal agreement among economists regarding the mechanics involved in the elasticity of taxable income. The Laffer Curve debate has been going on for decades—and it is not likely to be settled among economists before the next federal election cycle.

But, substantive issues notwithstanding, you have to admit that pro-tax cut Republicans seem to be enjoying an enormous advantage. (If you have any doubts, look up at the scoreboard.)

The question of whether that advantage is merely the result of better talking points—as opposed to more rational and enlightened economic policy positions—is the kind of question that can set a room on edge.

The second ranking Republican in the House, Eric Cantor, recently said: “I am not for raising taxes in a recession, especially when it comes to job creators.”

If you were a Democrat running for Congress, would you want to go back to your district, look voters in the eye, and try to tell them why Cantor is wrong?

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