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Ruth Marcus: Obama's message is 'ante up'

BY RUTH MARCUS Published: November 17, 2012

I'd be delighted to see the top tax rates revert to the 36 percent and 39.6 percent level they were under Bill Clinton. The Republican argument that this would stifle job creation by hurting small businesses is bogus — just a sliver of small businesses earn enough to be affected — and is refuted by the Clinton economy.

If Obama insists that the Bush tax cuts expire and Republicans refuse to raise rates, where is the potential compromise to avert the plunge?

In part, the question comes down to math. Is the administration correct in its analysis that various reform proposals won't generate enough revenue to cover the cost of extending the tax cuts?

If Republicans believe they have a workable tax-reform solution, they should come forward with it. Because in my conversations, the administration sounds pretty convinced that one doesn't exist.

Obama was appropriately careful not to draw red lines about specific rates or slam doors on compromise solutions. Yet those who took away from the news conference the lesson of the president's conciliatory language may be overly optimistic.

The administration's reading of the political and economic climate feels less like the debt-ceiling debacle and more like last year's argument over extending the payroll tax holiday. It is betting that, threatened with being tagged with raising middle-class taxes and risking a recession, Republicans will capitulate. That is one high-stakes wager.



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