Judging by this week’s headlines, Democrats would like to raise taxes on the rich — but can’t even seem to agree on a definition of the term. What precipitated this apparent crisis was President Obama’s call on Monday to extend the Bush tax cuts for another year, but only for households earning less than $250,000 annually. That seemingly put the White House at odds with the Democratic leadership in Congress, which has advocated increases only for those making more than $1 million a year. The White House, too, had recently been inclined to define “rich” as starting at the million-dollar level: the Buffett Rule, which Obama proposed in April, would impose a minimum 30-percent federal tax rate on millionaires.
But despite some of the news coverage and the gleeful Republican needling about Democratic disarray, there really isn’t much disagreement among Democrats about who’s rich and should pay more taxes. Instead, the disparity reflects different political strategies about how best to put pressure on Republicans. The inevitable resolution — Obama will prevail — reflects the president’s primacy and also his dire predicament. Having once before broken his vow to let the Bush tax cuts expire (as part of a 2010 stimulus deal), he probably can’t do so again and feel confident about getting reelected.