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November 17, 2012

Column: Give Obama what he asks for on taxing ‘millionaires’

Since President Obama won re-election last week, the talk now is all about “compromise” to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff” of broad-based tax increases along with major cuts in spending, set to kick in on Jan. 1 if Congress can’t agree on an alternative.

But, as is the case with just about every word regularly used in politics, “compromise” means very different things to different people.

The president’s definition is roughly as follows: You (Republicans) agree to give away your major bargaining chip right away. And then we’ll talk later about whether I might be flexible on anything.

In short, he wants Republicans to agree immediately to keep current tax rates in place for families with incomes less than $250,000 or individuals making less than $200,000. Later, he says he will “negotiate” on how much to raise taxes on “millionaires and billionaires” and supposedly on how to slow the growth of spending on entitlement programs so they don’t bankrupt coming generations.

That sounds a bit like my favorite distortion of the “third-way” method of resolving conflict. You want A, I want B, and we compromise on C, a third way that allows both of us to get some of what we want, but also requires us to give up some of what we want. Obama’s version is that he wants A, Republicans want B, and the third-way compromise is A, with some vague declaration that sometime in the future he might consider something that he will decide has elements of C in it.

The president and his supporters, some of the least gracious winners in history, are busy reminding everybody that he won the election. They’re right. But if Republican Mitt Romney had won by the same margin, they would be busy pointing out that a majority that didn’t even hit 51 percent is no mandate. And that would be correct, too.

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