John Avlon
July 10th, 2012
08:53 PM ET

OutFront Political Strike team weighs on Bush tax cut limits

Pres. Barack Obama announced Monday his proposal for extending Bush-era tax cuts for households making less than $250,000 a year. Some Democrats want the tax cut to apply to Americans making less than $1 million a year.

We asked our OutFront Political Strike team to weigh in, 30 independent analysts who help us break down the issues of the day. The question – Which is better for Democrats politically, a threshold of $250,000 or $1 million?

Alexander Burns – The Obama campaign’s decision to go with a $250k cutoff instead of $1 million is a sign of their desire to draw the sharpest possible contrast with Mitt Romney. You would make the cutoff $1 million if you were basically concerned about blowback over raising taxes, and wanted to make sure the increases would affect as few people as possible. Instead, the Obama campaign is placing a higher-risk, potentially higher reward bet that voters believe that the tax system currently favors the wealthy and needs to be adjusted. It’s too soon to say whether that bet will pay off, but it’s consistent with the overall approach Chicago has taken to the 2012 economic debate.

Nia-Malika Henderson – I think most voters won't really notice this distinction and it seems that the Democrats are getting in line with the President on this.  As a talking point (and that's all this really is given that there isn't likely to be any movement on this), Democrats are on pretty firm ground with this in terms given that polls show that most voters agree with President Obama. That said, I don't think voters are paying attention to the inter party squabbling and weighing the difference between the two thresholds in terms of what it would mean for the deficit etc.

Kyle Leighton – The extension is a political winner in both cases, it's just a question of degree. For maximum political benefit, polls show halting the Bush tax cuts on those making over $1 million is the most popular single proposal, your CNN poll from April showed it with 72 percent support against only 27 percent. CBS/NYT and ABC/WaPo polls from February found similar results. The problem with advocating the one million dollar range is that it's much less valuable in terms of deficit reduction, and opens the door for Republicans to say that it's just playing politics and an excuse to raise taxes, which from a campaign perspective might make the gain negligible.

Drop the threshold down to $250k and it's still a potent political issue - polls taken in 2011 show support for that approach mostly in the mid-fifties, the highest again being your CNN poll (10/14-16) at 63 percent support.

In both cases the benefit for Democrats is that they've been able to box the GOP in on an issue that Republican typically dominate. President Obama has actually been fairly highly rated on taxes because he's been specific. He's been advocating for this proposal since his 2008 campaign, and it's always been framed as it is now - the vast majority of Americans against only a small group of people that he argues can afford the rate increase.

The GOP response is typically non-specific - they usually say that Americans are no fan of class warfare, and there's been Gallup data to back that idea up in a general sense. But in this debate its also very clear Americans dont' view the tax system as very fair. Other Gallup data has shown that, and a fairly surprising 68 percent of Americans in an ABC/WaPo poll from February described the tax system as favoring the wealthy.

So to answer your question more directly, it's probably better for Democrats to follow the President's lead on this - he's built up some capital on the issue, and even though the $1 million dollar level polls higher, the policy merits are better in terms of deficit reduction at the 250k. But like I said, this is really a political question, so there will certainly be Democrats who simply feel they can't be seen for advocating for higher taxes when it comes to anyone who makes less than seven figures, or maybe even at all.

Andy Serwer – This is really a question of what it means to be rich in America. Are you crazy?!?? I think most people would say over $250K. I think most Dems would say it's fair to extend only for those making less than $250K.

Omar Ali – The question of what will score more points for Democrats is a question for Democrats, not for independents. Independents are not uniformally for or against any particular tax policy, since indpendents span the political spectrum and have a range of positions on matters from taxes, foreign affairs, healthcare, to education reform. However, to the extent that one tax limit policy favors wealthier Americans over others may be understood as a process question–a question of democracy–independents do weigh-in strongly in favor of a more open political system; one which is accountable, irrespective of wealth. The option to recall elected leaders, having open primaries, and enacting non-partisan reforms to lessen the control of parties–and the limited framing of issues that they generate–while increasing the power of voters, are matters that independents favor.

Ken Vogel – A $250,000 cut-off likely would be more popular with more Democratic GRASSROOTS ACTIVISTS and VOTERS. It would jibe with the Obama campaign’s argument that the president is prioritizing the interests of middle- and working-class folk over those of the wealthy.

That said, a $1 million cut-off could prove more popular with mid-sized to big- Democratic DONORS, some of whom have expressed discomfort with what they perceive as the president’s attacks on the wealthy.

Carlos Sierra – A $250,000 limit will score more political points from the voters the Democrats need to be focused on - the non-millionaires. Economic populism is the key to winning this election. The 1% versus the 99%. The middle-class versus Wall Street. The word millionaire is a bad word this cycle and if the Democrats come across as helping millionaires keep their Bush tax cuts, it will blur the line between Democrats and Republicans. President Obama's strategy puts Republicans on the defensive on an issue that traditionally belongs to them.

David Walker – $250,000 a year, but both numbers represent political pandering.  We need comprehensive and professional tax reform rather than partisan and piecemeal reforms.

Dante Chinni – Not an easy question.  The $250,000 line would have more actual
impact, but the $1 million number would probably be a safer bet

LZ Granderson – One million is the better way for sure. The truth is $250K with a couple of kids in an area of the country where making that kind of money is possible, is not a lot of money. Technically those families are rich, but they probably do not feel rich because of cost of living. And politics is about feeling as much as it is facts. Besides you it is disingenuous to give speeches pushing a policy asking millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share but then have the policy impact people who are not those things.

Scott Wong – $250,000. Even if the White House loses a handful of Democrats, the $250,000 threshold allows President Obama to demonstrate that he’s fighting for the middle class.

Sasha Issenberg – $1M

McCay Coppins – $1 million - it's much easer to sell a "tax on millionaires" than to select a high-sounding but ultimately arbitrary income and then convince middle class Americans that THOSE people need to pay more.

Mark Preston – $1 million – short term extension – maybe a year.

Lisa M. Borders – $250K – psychological; to appear aligned with what the average American can envision attaining v. the exception, the person who attains $1M.

John Avlon – $1 million

Filed under: Economy • Political Strike Team • Politics
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