Ezra Klein did a column this week making the provocative suggestion that Democrats should surrender on taxes. Just admit that Republicans will never agree to tax hikes and ask them for a grand bargain that’s about something else. Maybe cut entitlement spending in exchange for immigration reform or in exchange for growth-oriented infrastructure-focused stimulus.
I think there are some merits to that, but also plenty of reasons why Democrats won’t pivot. The best thing about asking for revenue, from the Democratic point of view, is that the party has developed consensus around it—all Democrats favor revenue-increasing tax reform. Nothing else has that quality.
But this is really just to say that it’s Republicans who ought to take the initiative on Klein’s idea. Right now they’re saying “no” as in “no new revenue.” That’s fine. But if they want to achieve their goal of entitlement cuts, then they need to switch that to “no, but” as in “no, but we’ll bring immigration reform to the House floor” or “no, but we’ll agree to a short-term fiscal stimulus.” The fact is that tax hikes on the rich poll well and unite Democrats. It’s true that endless arguments about taxes don’t move the ball forward on policy at all, but it still suits Democrats perfectly well for politics to be dominated by an argument over taxing the rich. It’s Republicans who’d have a lot to gain by shifting to some other kind of debate.