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Obama, Tax Cuts, And The Bully Bulpit

Ezra Klein is ready for a Democratic Plan B on taxes:

Reid and Pelosi have settled on a strategy for the Bush tax cuts: Split them up. The tax cuts for income under $250,000 will come up for a vote, the tax cuts for income over $250,000 won't -- or will possibly get their own vote. But this strategy isn't expected to work: Republicans in the Senate are expected to join with a few conservative Democrats to block any effort that allows the expiration of the tax cuts for the wealthy.

If you define "working" to mean getting the Republicans to capitulate immediately, then no, it's not going to work. The plan will work only if President Obama makes clear that he will only accept a result that decouples the upper-bracket tax cuts from the rest. Then, when Republicans block an extension of tax cuts for all income below $250,000 -- and remember, rich people would benefit from such a tax cut, too -- then he has to hammer them for holding middle class tax cuts hostage. And he has to keep hammering them, using the power of the bully pulpit to set the agenda.

The Republican position on taxes is deeply unpopular and Republicans know it. You can get away with an unpopular position if the issue is technical, or if the opposition lacks a platform to highlight it. But if Obama decides he's going to highlight the Republican position, eventually the pressure will be too great for them to bear. There's no way they're going to spend the next two years opposing a very popular tax cut on the grounds that it doesn't also include a very unpopular tax cut.

Partisans often overstate the power of the presidential bully pulpit to change public opinion. Changing peoples' minds is very hard. But using the presidency to highlight an issue where the president already has a popular stance, thus putting pressure on opponents, is a classic function of the office.