Robert B. Reich, a co-founder of The American Prospect, is a Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. His website can be found here and his blog can be found here.
Democrats should draw a bright line: No tax cut. Period. The surplus should be used instead for the three things regular working families need most: affordable health care (including prescription drugs), child care, and better schools.
Instead Democrats are putting all their energies behind keeping Bush's tax cut closer to the $1.2 trillion they squeezed it down to in the Senate several weeks ago rather than the $1.6 trillion passed by the House. The $1.2 trillion "was a great victory for us," one prominent Democratic senator assured me recently. "In the end, if we can just keep 51 votes together, we'll triumph."
One party claims that the budget surplus will be small and that the most important goal is to eliminate the debt. The other says the surplus will be big and we can do ambitious things with it. You'd be forgiven if you thought that the first party was the Democrats and the second the Republicans. But it's actually the reverse. The Democrats are marching under the banner of fiscal austerity, and the Republicans proclaim this the era of large ambition.
The economy is slowing, yet the surplus keeps growing. President-elect W. wants to use both to justify a big tax cut. How should the Democrats respond? (A) Warn once again that a big tax cut will jeopardize Social Security and that a better use for the surplus is to pay down the nation's debt. (B) Reject any fiscal stimulus and trust Alan Greenspan alone to achieve a "soft landing." (C) Agree with Bush that a fiscal stimulus would be useful and appropriate, but argue that it should take the form of new spending on education, health care, child care and public transit rather than a tax cut. (D) Concur with Bush that a tax cut is appropriate but demand that it favor poor and working families instead of the rich.
Presidents are lucky if they accomplish one big thing in a term of office. The American political system is designed to make even one big thing difficult to get done, especially if there's no economic or foreign crisis to coral public support. President Bush has already got done one very big thing -- a tax cut of large proportion, approximately the size of the cut he campaigned on.