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Forget the Past Three Years, Let's Talk About Fairness

12:00 AM, Jul 14, 2012 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
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The debate is also about the “fiscal cliff” toward which the U.S. economy is hurtling. Legislation now calls for a recession inducing year end toxic mix of tax increases as the Bush tax cuts and a payroll tax reduction expire, and a mandated reduction in government spending is effectuated. So Obama has positioned himself as trying to avoid another recession by postponing most of the tax rises -- but only if Republicans do the “fair” thing and go along with his plan to allow taxes to increase on the wealthiest 2 percent.

The president wants the Democratic-controlled Senate to vote for his tax plan, and now. That would, he thought, force the Republicans to oppose tax relief for the middle class in order to protect “the ric.” He hadn’t planned that several members of his own party would be reluctant to vote for any tax increases, especially in states where $250,000 is not considered rich. So Majority Leader Harry Reid  has been forced to reject Republicans’ demands for a vote on Obama’s bill, at least until he can whip reluctant Democrats into line behind an embarrassed president. The Republicans would like separate votes on extending the tax to everyone, followed by another calling for an increase to wealthy taxpayers -- a bill many Democrats would not support. This bit of foreplay will be followed by meaningless passage of the president’s bill, to be interred by the Republican-controlled House.          

Most voters won’t pay attention to these debates until the traditional beginning of the campaign season on Labor Day, September 3. Unlike Beltway political junkies, most people have a life that includes barbecues, baseball games, family vacations. Then, those who have not already decided which candidate is most likely to get the country back on the right track—two-thirds say we are on the wrong track—will begin to listen to the arguments and size up the candidates.

Most forecasters agree that the state of the economy on Election Day, November 6, will be what it now is—unemployment above 8 percent, job creation barely sufficient to keep up with population growth, deficits unsustainable, the middle class under economic pressure, repossessions again on the rise, the fiscal cliff in clear view. Fortunately for the president, 60 percent of voters believe he inherited that situation, and he remains personally popular. Best of all, he may be facing a challenger who persists in following Woody Allen’s advice: 80 percent of success in life is just showing up.

Voters will have to choose between Obama, who is promising to improve their condition by expanding government and raising taxes, and a rich challenger with a vision of a private sector, liberated from regulations and benefiting from lower taxes, restoring the American dream. At least they can’t complain that they don’t have a clear choice between competing visions. It is not clear whether they will use that opportunity to register a clear choice, or leave us with a divided government with a single talent: kicking cans down the road. 

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