As we enter into yet another round of budget discussions, the Democratic Party is confronted with an opportunity -- and a challenge. There's an opportunity to shift the budget debate to an area where they hold the high ground. But it will be a challenge for some Democrats to take the initiative on a subject they seem reluctant to discuss.
The subject is taxes.
Tax increases are a subject people seem reluctant to mention in the nation's capital. Republicans have convinced everyone inside the Beltway that new tax revenues are politically impossible. The talk on the Hill is that the White House is urging Senate and House Dems to accept a cuts-only budget deal for the next go-round. It seems that the conventional wisdom says tax increases are best left unmentioned.
But the conventional wisdom is wrong.
New polling by Hart Research Associates, conducted for Americans for Tax Fairness, confirms and amplifies findings from earlier studies showing that Americans strongly support higher taxes for the wealthy and corporations. And when we say "strongly," we mean very strongly.
As that covert recording of Mitt Romney showed last year, some of the "1 percent" think other Americans aren't pulling their own weight in this economy. As this new polling confirms, the feeling's mutual. By a 17-point margin (56 percent to 39 percent), the American people want the next budget agreement to include new tax revenues from corporations and the wealthy.
And despite the conventional wisdom which suggests that "moderates" reject tax hikes, the Hart polling shows that moderates actually want these tax hikes -- by an overwhelming 42-point margin. Registered independents, often thought of as the Holy Grail of electioneering, back them by a 19-point margin.
The conclusion is inescapable: if Democrats make this budget battle a fight over who has the smartest spending cuts, they're fighting on the Republicans' turf. That will weaken them as they enter the 2014 campaigns. But if they make this a fight over taxes and jobs, that's a fight they can win.
How would this play out in the real-life Battle of the Budget? Before the backroom dealing takes place, there's always a period of public posturing. Every time the Republicans talk about spending, the Democrats need to bring up taxes. Every time the Republicans talk about cuts, the Democrats have to hit them with the same lines, over and over and over:
"Why are you protecting the rich?"
"Stop protecting offshoring corporations."
"If you really care about deficits, why keep all these tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy?"
When the talk turns to cutting "entitlements" -- Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid -- Democrats will be on even firmer ground. When given a choice, 70 percent of Americans preferred offsetting the sequester cuts with tax increases for the wealthy and corporations. Only 12 percent thought they should be offset by reducing future Medicare and Social Security spending.
Many of the spending cuts being put forward by Republicans, along with some of those being proposed by the White House, are unpopular with voters. Of those polled, 85 percent opposed asking seniors pay more for Medicare; 83 percent opposed cuts to Medicaid coverage. And 67 percent -- more than two thirds of those polled -- opposed the "chained CPI" Social Security cut.
Democrats may be tempted to soften the blow for themselves by speaking of "entitlement cuts" rather than "cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid." That's understandable, "entitlement cuts" don't provoke the same negative reaction that "cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid" do. Well, forget it, Dems. In the 12 months remaining until the next election, they'll have plenty of time to figure out whether or not these programs were cut -- and who went along with it.