You might expect Democrats, then, to be pushing hard for a straightforward amnesty bill. But they don’t have to. Because Republicans are so far out in right field on the issue, Democrats haven’t actually had to do anything to reap substantial political benefits. They’ve just had to sound more reasonable, and less hostile, than Republicans, which has not required breaking a sweat.
On the central fiscal-cliff question, the GOP is similarly out of step. The Politico poll found that 60 percent of respondents favor raising income taxes on households that earn more than $250,000 a year. The Republican Party says no — and thus allows itself to be portrayed as willing to sink the economic recovery, if necessary, to ensure that tycoons can keep their pantries stocked with caviar.
Where is the incentive for Democrats to get serious about fiscal matters? As long as the GOP remains adamant on what many Americans see as a no-brainer question of basic fairness, those who believe in progressive solutions get a pass.
The truth is that raising top marginal rates for the wealthy is probably as far as we should go on the tax front right now, given the fragility of the recovery. The best thing we could do for the country’s long-term fiscal health is spur the economy into faster growth, which will shrink deficits and the debt as a percentage of gross domestic product.