Republicans seem to think the words “tax increase” are a lethal weapon. Democrats seem to agree with them. House Democratic Caucus chair Joe Crowley just declined to say whether he would repeal the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, offering the lifeless alternative of “[restoring] balance.” There’s no excuse for such meekness. Tax politics have changed, and Democrats need to stop fearing the issue like a rogue torpedo.
Both parties seem trapped in the 1980’s on taxes. That was a time when taxes really were high and the median voter really did want them cut. Reagan-Bush dominated the decade because of the issue. Since then, taxes have fallen, and middle-class Americans show far less concern that they are taxed too much. Anti-tax sentiment now resides largely within the donor class.
Consultants don’t seem to have noticed the change. We’re supposedly a “center-right nation” on the size of government. According to the best data, this just isn’t true anymore. A plurality of Americans favor “a bigger government with more services.” Even conservative Republicans show some support for higher taxes on the rich. Cutting taxes is now a niche interest of rich people and the supply-side movement.
In a fact-based world, Republicans would be playing defense on taxes. And the Democrats would play their winning hand without apology. They would emphasize that rich people pay too little, and higher taxes will fund popular programs. Voters are ready to hear that message.
Sadly, Washington Democrats may be too milquetoast to own taxes. But reticence on this winning issue is foolish. They should at least stop running scared.