Tax and Entitlement “Reform”

Greg SargentThis afternoon, Greg Sargent wrote, Republicans Say They Want Entitlement Cuts. But They Want Dems to Own Them. In it, he shows that all this Republican talk about entitlement reform is just a way for them to trick Democrats into owning Medicare and Social Security cuts so that they can campaign against them in 2014 and 2016. As usual Sargent is dead on. What would be really surprising is if Obama does not fall into that trap.

But Sargent—a good, strong liberal—makes a mistake in how he writes about the issue. Word is that Republicans will accept a small tax increase if the Democrats make a big show of owning large entitlement cuts. The Republicans will finesse the coverage of such a tax increase by calling it “tax reform.” And that is just how Sargent writes it: he puts “tax reform” in quotes, because it is a euphemism. But he has no problem writing a sentences like this, “Dems would have no choice but to offer up significant entitlement reforms.” Do you see it? He writes as though “entitlement reforms” is what it claims to be.

When people talk about “entitlement reforms” what they mean is “entitlement cuts.” Using the former phrase is just a way to hide what is really going on. Everyone loves reforms: they make things better! But no one likes cuts: they make people poorer. As a result, I always bristle when I see the phrase “entitlement reform.” But mostly, I don’t see it right next to “tax reform.”

There are so many ways that we fight our liberal battles on conservative turf. And I admit: this is perhaps a minor one. But we are forever talking about issues through a conservative prism. Sargent uses scare quotes around “tax reform” because he is specifically talking about how conservatives will spin tax increases. But the fact that he even uses “entitlement reform” (with or without scare quotes) shows that he has accepted the conservative framing of the issue. And that’s no good.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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