In a former life I used to write polls as part of my job, and at one point, we decided to do a small test on the estate tax. The unpopularity of the tax is something of a mystery, since it's paid by only the richest heirs. As Kevin Drum says, "Polls routinely show that a substantial majority of people favor higher income taxes on the rich. But polls also show that a substantial majority of people favor repeal or reduction of the estate tax." At the time (this was back in 2000), I thought it might have to do with a misconception, namely that lots of people assumed that everyone who inherits anything has to pay the estate tax.
As we all know, Mitt Romney's biggest problem in the 2012 Republican primaries is that conservatives don't trust him, given that he used to be a pro-choice moderate who got health coverage for Massachusetts' uninsured. His answer to this problem has been to run frantically to the right, staking out the most extreme position he can on any issue that comes up (his latest is an attack on lazy unemployed people). But the truth is this strategy is going to fail.
To hear Republicans talk these days, the individual insurance mandate contained within the Affordable Care Act is an act of socialist tyranny so horrific that just thinking about it is almost enough to make blood pour from your ears, which is bad, because some government bureaucrat might say you can't get care for bleeding ears.
As we move toward some kind of resolution of the tax debate, I thought it might be worthwhile to put some things in context, particularly the question of the top marginal tax rate. That's the one conservatives are so desperate to keep low, and part of the reason liberals in Congress are rebelling against the compromise reached by President Obama and Mitch McConnell.
The American income tax was established via the 16th Amendment to the Constitution, which was ratified in 1913. Since then, the top rate has varied, but it has been falling pretty much since World War II. Let's look at a chart:
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) at a news conference following two votes on tax cuts during a rare Saturday session of the U.S. Senate on Capitol Hill earlier this month (AP Photo/Harry Hamburg)
When Barack Obama took office two years ago, four far-reaching problems stood above all others he had to face: the free-falling economy, the war in Iraq, the health-care crisis, and the threat of global climate change. If he could make real progress on those four, his presidency could stand among those of Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, and Ronald Reagan as the most consequential of the last hundred years, no matter what else he did or didn't do.