(Bloomberg) — Social Security may be known as the “third rail” of American politics, but it is the debate over taxes that has been the “kryptonite” of the Democratic Party in recent decades.
President Barack Obama has put the question of revenue increases on the front burner as part of his fiscal-policy agenda, and the discussion will grow in visibility and intensity as the early December deadline for a report from the congressional supercommittee approaches.
Although almost every expert, economist and open-minded leader in both parties (excluding, of course, the hard-line Republican leadership) agrees that we need more revenue to bring future deficits under control, the political danger for Democrats in the debate remains severe.
Indeed, one Democrat with a proven ear for politics, Bill Clinton, has expressed doubts about the administration’s decision to wade into the revenue controversy, saying, “I personally don’t believe we ought to be raising taxes or cutting spending until we get this economy off the ground.” (More recently, though, Clinton acknowledged that deficit reduction requires “adequate revenues,” scooting a bit closer to the administration’s line.)
How can Democrats tackle the tax question without courting political disaster?
Obama has tried two approaches. Last spring, when he was pressing for revenue increases during the debt-ceiling talks, his emphasis was on a “balanced approach”: If spending was to be cut, then revenue should be increased, too.