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Who 'Owns' The Bush Tax Cuts?

They're called the Bush tax cuts for a reason. And when they were passed in the early 2000s, most Democrats opposed them.

Cut to a decade later: President Obama is calling for a second extension in as many years of the "temporary" cuts, but it won't come without a fight from congressional Republicans.

Given the apparent role reversal, who owns the George W. Bush-era tax cuts now: Democrats or Republicans?

"They're still called the Bush tax cuts, but I think it's a bit of a misnomer at this point," says Ted Gayer, the co-director of economic studies at the centrist Brookings Institution.

Michael Ettlinger, vice president for economics at the left-wing Center for American Progress, says it's really a matter of semantics. "It's just easier to call them the Bush tax cuts," he says.

The latest fight between the president and Republicans is shaping up to be a battle royal — not only are taxes involved but so are deficits and class politics.

That's because the president wants to extend the cuts for one year, but only to those making less than $250,000. NPR's independent analysis shows Obama's proposal would add $3.2 trillion to the national deficit over the next decade, as opposed to $3.9 trillion if the tax cuts were extended to everyone, like Republicans want.

The Bush tax cuts sliced about 2 percent off most tax brackets. According to the Tax Policy Center, 83 percent of Americans will see their taxes rise if the cuts are allowed to expire. Those making between $50,000 and $75,000 would pay about $2,200 more, while those making $1 million or more would owe an extra $175,000.

Both sides have to make their case to middle-class Americans.

For Obama, it goes like this: The wealthiest Americans need to pay their fair share and take some of the burden off the struggling middle class.

For Republicans, it goes like this: A tax increase on the wealthy, who are the economy's "job creators," will have a negative trickle-down effect on the middle class in the way of more lost jobs.

Sound familiar? The same lines were drawn two years ago, but the president blinked and the Bush tax cuts were renewed for all taxpayers. If the issue comes to a head again before Election Day, don't count on Obama backing down again.

"There will be a political fight this fall on the dueling positions on tax cuts and no resolution before the election," says Brian Darling, a senior fellow for government studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

"If Obama wins, there will be a short-term deal in the lame duck [session]," he says. "If Romney wins, there will be an effort to extend all the tax cuts on a permanent basis."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.