At the Convention:Dems Go Far Beyond Kerry on Tax Increases

Boston, Mass.–Although John Kerry insists he wants to end the Bush tax cuts for wage-earners only with incomes above $200,000, strong sentiment among his fellow Democrats on the convention floor last night was to go a lot further than their presidential nominee: let most or all of the breaks for taxpayers expire next year.

On the first night of the Democratic National Convention at Boston’s FleetCenter, it was near-impossible to find any party sachem in or out of Congress even inclined to support making the Bush tax cuts permanent. Should these sentiments be any weathervane of the national party viewpoint, it is a virtual certainty that Democrats will wage an all-out war in Congress to keep any tax cuts from becoming permanent in ’05–whether there is a “President Kerry” or not.

“We’re looking at all the tax cuts [to keep from being made permanent],” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D.-Mich.) told me on Monday evening, “We’re being asked to support a war and we’re putting that war on a credit card.”

Seconded Rep. Mark Udall (D.-Col.): “The tax cuts were temporary and while they may have given some short-term stimulus, the long-term results will be disastrous.” The son of the late Arizona Rep. and 1976 presidential hopeful specifically focused his fire on the Administration’s phase-out of the estate tax, declaring: “It hasn’t helped farmers and small businessmen. We should keep the estate tax and raise the threshold to, say , $10 million.”

More strident was Rep. Charles Gonzalez (D.-Tex). “I do not favor making the tax cuts permanent,” Gonzalez told me, “First, it’s a fallacy to say any tax cut can be made permanent when we can always revist the issue the following year and undo that. It’s just political expediency to talk about permanent tax cuts. And we must meet our needs, like Iraq and the war on terrorism.”

Many high-profile Democrats outside of Congress echoed Stabenow, Udall, and Gonzalez, indicating that the “No more tax cuts!” mantra extends to the Democratic grass-roots. Former Michigan Gov. James Blanchard, for example, said “[Congress] should look at all of the tax cuts. They have helped contribute to record deficits and taken this country from a surplus.”

New York State Attorney General Elliott Spitzer agreed, saying that he was against making the Bush tax cuts permanent because “We have already waded into enough fiscal insantiy. We are spending our future and we need to restore fiscal sanity.”

Kwesi Mfume, president of the NAACP, stopped short of calling for outright ending of all the Bush tax cuts, saying “not all of the Bush cuts are bad.” But, the former Maryland congressman quickly added, “They should all be up for examination. I’m open to dialogue and compromise.”

Like Mfume, a few other prominent Democrats were not willing to go further than Kerry and would consider making some of the President’s tax cuts permanent. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson spoke proudly of his own tax cuts. “We cut the personal income tax from 8% to 5% and cut capital gains in half,” he beamed, adding, “I believe in tax cuts, so long as you pay for everything.” Unwilling to reject permanent status for any of the Bush tax cuts, Richardson told me: “First we’ve got to see our fiscal situation through.”

Possibly the most interesting exchange of the evening came when I posed the same question to former Vice President Walter Mondale. “Bush cut taxes too much on the wealthy,” said the 1984 Democratic presidential nominee and former ambassador to Japan. When I asked if he wanted to let any of the Bush tax cuts expire next year and which if so, Mondale gently waved me off and joked: “I’m not an expert on taxes.” Mondale, of course, is well-remembered for accepting the Democratic nomination against Ronald Reagan twenty years ago by actually promising to raise taxes; he lost all but Minnesota and the District of Columbia that year.