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Once again, Democrats prepare to cave on taxes

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Weeks before the midterm election, Democrats were offered a golden opportunity to make their opposition to extending tax cuts for the wealthy a significant campaign issue. Instead, they raced home to prepare for an election night bloodbath.

If their lashing could largely be traced to continued high unemployment, the party's insistence on running away from its own principles and achievements surely didn't help.

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The next month is mop up time, the "lame duck" session, the Democrats last hurrah in charge of both Houses of Congress. So what's on tap? Democrats appear prepared to roll over again. A headline in today's Boston Globe, reads, "Obama, GOP hint at tax-cut compromise." What it doesn't say is that this "compromise" benefits only one group -- the rich -- and only one party, their patron saint, the GOP.

The dispute between Democrats and Republicans over taxes comes down to whether the wealthiest Americans -- individuals earning more than $200,000 and couples earning more than $250,000 -- should along with other Americans get an extension of Bush-era tax cuts that have helped create this country's enormous deficits and are set to expire at year's end. By simply allowing taxes on the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans to increase to pre-Bush-presidency levels, Congress would save this country an estimated $700 billion over a decade, enough to at least make a dent in the pace at which our deficit continues to grow. Republicans, however, want these tax cuts to be made permanent.

Polls before the election showed most Americans oppose the continued tax cut for the wealthiest Americans. So does the president, at least in theory. But now it seems that won't keep him from deferring the issue at least until the 2012 campaign by extending tax cuts for all Americans for two or three years.

His retreat is being made easier by the word choices of the news business, which apparently refers to anything short of the absolute permanent extension sought by Republicans as "compromise." No matter that Republicans are getting everything they want for now.

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No matter that my Merriam-Webster dictionary defines compromise as "settlement of differences reached by mutual concessions." I f, for example, Republicans had agreed not to filibuster a bill that would have raised taxes on millionaires only to pre-Bush-era rates, it would have been a compromise.

This isn't. As Curt Gurian argues in a column at the interesting new web site,remappingdebate.org, "So Democrats are told, 'Give us all we want now, and we promise to crucify you if you oppose us later, but feel free to call this a compromise if it helps you save face.'"

If that's the kind of compromise President Obama and the Democrats will be seeking in the new Congress, perhaps they should just put out white flags now and abandon Washington to the fat cats and the Republican establishment that does their bidding in the name of the Constitution and the people.


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Jerry Lanson teaches journalism at Emerson College in Boston. He's been a newspaper reporter, columnist, writing coach and editor. His latest book, "Writing for Others, Writing for Ourselves," was published in January by Rowman & Littlefield.

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