Paul Krugman parades a lack of principle in his Friday column, "The Tax-Cut Racket," battering Republicans on the budget deficit (after two years of waving it off as not important in the name of Obama-care) for wanting to extend the Bush tax cuts to "the wealthy," not only to the middle class as President Obama recommends.
"Nice middle class you got here," said Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader. "It would be a shame if something happened to it."
O.K., he didn't actually say that. But he might as well have, because that's what the current confrontation over taxes amounts to. Mr. McConnell, who was self-righteously denouncing the budget deficit just the other day, now wants to blow that deficit up with big tax cuts for the rich. But he doesn't have the votes. So he's trying to get what he wants by pointing a gun at the heads of middle-class families, threatening to force a jump in their taxes unless he gets paid off with hugely expensive tax breaks for the wealthy.
Most discussion of the tax fight focuses either on the economics or on the politics - both of which suggest that Democrats should hang tough, for their own sakes as well as that of the country. But there's an even bigger issue here - namely, the question of what constitutes acceptable behavior in American political life. Politics ain't beanbag, but there's a difference between playing hardball and engaging in outright extortion, which is what Mr. McConnell is now doing. And if he succeeds, it will set a disastrous precedent.
Atlantic blogger Megan McArdle summed up Krugman's budget deficit hypocrisy in a headline: "Krugman: Republicans Are Fiscally Irresponsible for Pushing Smaller Tax Cut, Threatening Much Larger One."
Paul Krugman simultaneously castigates Republicans for the fiscal irresponsibility of wanting to extend tax cuts for the rich that cost about $700 billion - and for irresponsibly threatening the extension of tax cuts for the middle class which cost three times as much. Yet you could read the entire column and not realize that it's the middle class tax cuts which are the really expensive, budget-busting bit....it undercuts the rest of his argument. If you think the deficit's a pressing problem, as I do, then all the tax cuts should be ended. If you don't, then this argument is opportunistic, not serious....Nowhere does he mention that the Obama plan would add to the deficit even more hugely, or indeed say anything at all about the cost of that part of the plan.