Romney: The tax cuts deal is a bad bargain

Says John Podhoretz of this piece, “And the Mitt Romney, Most Inauthentic Politician in America, Drive to the Presidency continues.” I know our resident Palinistas can’t wait to point out that she was leading on this issue while Mitt was holding back until the very day of the Senate vote, so go on. Gloat. You know you wanna.

The deal has several key features. It reduces payroll taxes, extends unemployment benefits and keeps current tax rates intact. So far, so good. But intermixed with the benefits are considerable costs of consequence. Given the unambiguous message that the American people sent to Washington in November, it is difficult to understand how our political leaders could have reached such a disappointing agreement. The new, more conservative Congress should reach a better solution…

For those without jobs, the tax compromise extends unemployment benefits for 13 months. A decent and humane society must have a strong safety net for the unemployed. I served for 15 years as a lay pastor in my church and saw the heartbreak of joblessness up close; a shattering loss of faith in oneself is but only one of many forms the suffering can take. Nonetheless, the vital necessity of providing for those without work should not be used as an excuse to ignore the very real problems of our unemployment system.

In this, as in so many other arenas of government policy, unemployment insurance has many unintended effects. The indisputable fact is that unemployment benefits, despite a web of regulations, actually serve to discourage some individuals from taking jobs, especially when the benefits extend across years…

To remedy such problems we need a very different model, perhaps establishing individual unemployment savings accounts over which employees would exercise direct control when they lose their jobs, or putting in place financial incentives for employers to hire and train the long-term unemployed. One thing is certain: While we cannot rebuild our flawed system overnight, we are surely not required to borrow the funds to pay for it. In spending $56.5 billion to extend benefits, the deal is sacrificing the bedrock Republican principle that new expenditures be paid for with offsetting budget cuts.

Thus did Mitt cover his ass ahead of the 2011 primaries, where support for the new porkier tax cuts compromise will no doubt be a litmus test for grassroots righties. Interestingly, at last check, Huckabee is still in favor of the deal, telling National Journal in an interview published this morning, “I think it’s the best anyone can hope for at this point,” before proceeding to dump all over Obama for his angry press conference last week. Huck’s been working hard over the past two years to try to repair the image of him as a “big government conservative,” backing hardcore tea party candidates and ripping every Obama spending program to come down the pike. I wonder if he’s simply been caught flat-footed on this or whether it’s a deliberate strategy to appeal to centrists. (Gingrich currently supports the compromise too.)

Here’s Obama’s statement this afternoon after the Senate voted for cloture on the bill, 83-15(!). As I write this, Politico is reporting that House Democrats want to incorporate a bill they passed earlier this year raising the estate tax rate to 45 percent into their version of the tax cuts bill; Blue Dogs probably won’t go for that, so we’ll see how Madam Soon-To-Be-Ex-Speaker plays it. Meanwhile, you’ll be pleased to know that your president is now going around telling people that the GOP might try to end the tax cuts for the middle class in two years. Consider that another sneak preview for 2012, one that’ll keep busy for most of the campaign, I suspect.