Protracted income tax fight would be ill timed

A few months before a presidential election is not the time to wrangle over tax policy.

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The months before a presidential election is a really lousy time to establish new U.S. tax policy.

Every proposal and counter proposal made by those in Congress is likely part of a strategy to get the presidential candidate from their party elected. It's not just politics as usual in the Capitol - it's politics on steroids.

So as the Bush-era tax cuts are about to expire, President Obama and the members of Congress - Democrats and Republicans - are looking to renew at least some of those cuts because they fear a significant tax hike will slow or stall the economic recovery. They are correct.

Where they are wrong is in trying to make political points in debating renewal of the tax cuts.

It would be best for the nation to simply extend most, if not all, of the cuts for one more year. This will allow the newly elected president and the newly elected Congress the opportunity to grapple with this critical issue.

We were not thrilled with the tax cuts when they were first approved. Our concern was the negative impact they would have on the nation's growing debt.

And we are still concerned about the debt. However, we also understand that many Americans, even those with six-figure incomes, have been hurt by the Great Recession. Money needs to continue to flow for a full economic recovery.

Obama is proposing a one-year extension of the Bush-era tax cuts on the first $250,000 of taxable income.

"We can't afford to keep that up, not right now," Obama said. "I just believe that anybody making over $250,000 should go back to the income tax rates we were paying under Bill Clinton."

Obama also framed his stand against keeping tax cuts for the wealthy as a key difference between him and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney.

Republicans, who control the House, quickly denounced Obama's ideas.

And some of Obama's fellow Democrats wanted to extend the tax cut to the first $1 million of income, but have begun to soften as the political battle takes shape.

The debate that's going to take place in Congress over the coming weeks will be emotional and, at times, confrontational. But, in the end, it will be just a debate for the 535 members of Congress and the president. It's not going to be whether they get a raise in pay next year or whether they can afford to move to a bigger house or send their kids to summer camp.

That stuff matters to Americans. And that's why it is critical to keep the economy moving forward, even if it is at a slow pace.

Whether the tax cut is set at $250,000 or $1 million or $2 million per family for one year will have relatively little impact over the long haul on the national debt.

The president and Congress must keep the status quo (or close to it) to not slow the fragile economic recovery.

Once the economy is back on track, however, reducing the debt has to be a top priority.

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