- The Washington Times - Monday, February 19, 2007

Virtually all the Democratic presidential contenders have denounced President Bush’s tax cuts and called for raising the rates on wealthier Americans, but Republican strategists say their plan will backfire in the 2008 election.

Bashing the Bush tax cuts as “tax cuts for the wealthy” has become the favorite Democratic mantra ever since he enacted his across-the-board tax-reduction plan in 2001 — which included increased tax credits for families with children and lower tax rates for every income bracket.

Every Democrat seeking the presidential nomination who was in Congress at the time voted against the Bush tax cuts and has called for repealing some of the income-tax rate reductions if they are elected president. Most say their tax increases would hit only the very wealthiest Americans earning more than $200,000 a year.

Republican tax-cut advocates say: “Don’t believe it.”

If the Democrats campaign on raising taxes just for people at the top tax rate, “it will backfire on them for two reasons,” said economic strategist Cesar Conda, a former chief domestic policy adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney.

“Number one: A lot of small businesses, small proprietorships, pay the top individual tax rate, so they will be raising taxes on small businesses and entrepreneurs. Number two: A lot of the polls I’ve seen suggest that the American people don’t believe that the Democratic tax increases will stop at just the rich, that eventually it will hit the middle class,” Mr. Conda said.

“The Democrats are falling into the trap of becoming the tax-and-spend party again,” said Mr. Conda, now a private consultant and economic adviser to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a 2008 Republican presidential candidate.

Some Democrats are also cautioning their party’s presidential aspirants to be careful how they present their tax proposals to the voters next year.

“Democrats have to define themselves as proponents in the battle for the middle class, so that any tax increases they espouse, like rolling back part of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, should be used primarily for middle class tax cuts,” said James Kessler, issues director for the Third Way, a centrist Democratic advocacy group.

“Each party comes into the political races with preconceptions. The preconceptions about the Democrats is that they are more likely to raise taxes than the Republicans, so you do have to be careful. Democrats need to have a series of middle class tax cuts that are real,” Mr. Kessler said.

But with few exceptions, the Democratic contenders have railed against all of the Bush tax cuts without making distinctions in its provisions, blaming the tax cuts for everything from the budget deficits to fighting the war on terrorism.

“If we hadn’t passed the big tax cuts last spring that undermined our fiscal responsibility and our ability to deal with this new threat of terrorism, we wouldn’t be in the fix we’re in today,” Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York said in the fall of 2001 after the September 11 attacks.

Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, also a tax-cut critic, wrote in his best-selling book “The Audacity of Hope” that Mr. Bush’s tax cuts worsened perceived wage stagnation and income inequality. Although he was not in the Senate when the tax cuts were passed, he voted last year against extending the capital-gains tax cut and for repealing it.

More recently, former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina proposed increasing the tax rate for the top 35 percent in order to raise up to $120 billion to pay for his universal health care plan.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson may be the only exception among the Democratic candidates. In his first term as governor, Mr. Richardson reduced income-tax rates across the spectrum, as Mr. Bush did, cutting the state’s top income-tax rate from 8.2 percent to 4.9 percent over five years.

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