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Special Report

Insight on the Tax Rate Debate

The running argument over extending the Bush tax cuts may come to nothing if Congress goes home in just three weeks, but it has been a revealing exchange nonetheless.

The president's call for extending the cuts for middle class taxpayers is an acknowledgement that President Bush did not just cut taxes for the rich -- as Democrats are fond of claiming -- he cut them for all taxpayers.

Administration officials keep saying it's a bad idea to keep the cuts in place for wealthier taxpayers because it would cost $700 billion in lost revenue over 10 years. What they don't say is that keeping them for the middle class, which they now support, would cost about three times as much.

Still, the president's position means he agrees with the Republicans that raising people's taxes in the midst of a flagging economy is a bad idea. But the very language used in discussing these issues tells you something as well.

In Washington, letting people keep more of their own money is considered a cost, as if the money really belongs to the government in the first place and what you get to keep is an expenditure. This sense of the primacy of government is reflected in the high percentage of stimulus funds used to bail out broke localities and protect the jobs of government workers.

Democrats are proving once again that they are the party of government. Americans think government is important too, they just don't think financing it takes priority over all else.