Tax debate

Voters may wish it weren't so, but the current Congress still has a few weeks to live. Democrats will retain control of the House through a lame-duck session that will address a critical economic issue: the extension of the Bush income tax cuts.

President Obama and Democratic leaders support extending the reduced tax rates for lower- and middle-class families, but want to increase income taxes on the country's top earners. Republicans want all of the tax cuts extended because allowing the top brackets to leap would hammer small businesses and discourage the kind of investment needed to create private-sector jobs.

If no agreement can be reached, everyone's income taxes will jump come January -- something that would enrage an already unhappy electorate.

One possible compromise has been floated: extending the highest tax rates for one or two years and making the rest permanent. The GOP's House leaders have rejected the suggestion, saying a decoupling and temporary extension of the top tax brackets would only add to the uncertainty that has stifled job creation, and all but guarantee the eventual expiration of those breaks.

"I am not for sending any signal to small businesses in this country that they're going to have their tax rates go up," said Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., the GOP's No. 2 man in the House.

Democrats clearly believe they have a winning hand in perpetuating class warfare and casting Republicans as protectors of "the rich."

Maybe not. One result, in particular, from last week's elections should give Democrats pause -- and give Republicans confidence that they have the high ground in this partisan conflict.

In Washington state, a reliably Democratic voting bloc, voters were presented with Initiative 1098, which would have created the state's first income tax. The levy would have applied only to individuals earning more than $200,000 and households making more than $400,000, while cutting property taxes and some taxes on small businesses. It was a blatant wealth transfer scheme.

But nearly two-thirds of voters rejected the initiative.

Republicans could always wait until January, when they'll control the House and have greater numbers in the Senate, to demand that all Bush tax cuts be made permanent, but such a move is not without political risk.

The GOP should point to the Washington vote as further evidence that Americans aren't buying what Democrats are selling, and work to get all the tax cuts made permanent immediately.