Thursday, December 6, 2012

Threading the Needle

Both Portland Press Herald and Bangor Daily News have stories up today suggesting that Sen. Collins now says she favors extending middle class tax cuts immediately and sorting out questions about tax breaks for the rich later.

But did she actually say this?

Kevin Miller and Matthew Stone are relatively new to the Collins beat. So they may not be aware of the senator's long history of using ambiguous statements to send different messages to different constituencies--and to win press coverage that conveys almost the opposite of what she's up to.

Collins did this on Iraq, hinting that she backed a substantial troop withdrawal when she actually supported no such thing.

She did it on "don't ask don't tell"--telling reporters that she would vote for repeal even as she signed a letter vowing to block it.

She's done it often. And she's quite good at it.

So is the junior senator up to the same shenanigans when it comes to taxes and the middle class?

I think it's clear that she is.

Consider: While her statement says in passing that extending the middle class tax rates immediately "has merit" the junior senator also warns that "we must, however, work to protect small business owners"--which we know from prior discussion Collins thinks includes people making $1 million per year and up.

The statement then proceeds to tout Collins's own proposal to protects these high-income individuals without ever explicitly stating that she would vote for a middle income rate extension that didn't include her "small business" carve out.

Finally, as Miller notes in his piece:

Collins voted earlier this year against a Democratic bill to only extend the middle class tax cuts.
The clear upshot of all this is that Collins, while making friendly noises about a middle class rate extension (it "has merit"), has fallen far short of actually embracing it.

Meanwhile, she has succeeded in generating headlines that suggest she's in sync with the views of most Mainers while at the same time leaving herself enough wiggle room to tell a different story to her wealthy benefactors and the lunatic fringe of the Maine GOP.

It's a needle she's threaded before. And one she's sure to try to thread again.

Hopefully next time, Maine reporters will be wise to the game.

Here's the full statement:

"Representative Cole's proposal to proceed with an extension of tax relief for working families making $250,000 or less has merit because everyone agrees lower and middle-income families should not be subjected to higher taxes.

"I believe that very wealthy individuals—millionaires and billionaires—should pay a greater percentage of their income in taxes to help us reduce the soaring deficit. In April, I was the only Republican to vote to proceed to consideration of a bill, the so-called "Buffett Rule," which would have imposed a new minimum tax on the very wealthy.

"We must, however, work to protect small business owners—our nation's job creators--from the impact of higher taxes that are scheduled to go into effect at the beginning of the year.

"Last December, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and I offered a bipartisan job creation plan that included a two-percent surtax on millionaires. But our proposal also included a "carve-out" provision to protect small business owners who pay taxes through the individual income tax system. We recognize that while multimillionaires and billionaires can afford to pay more to help us deal with our unsustainable deficit, small businesses cannot. Small business owner-operators are on the front lines of our economy. The income that shows up on their personal income tax returns is critical to their ability to create jobs, finance investment, and grow their businesses."

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