The federal budget deficit for 2010 is $1.47 trillion. That’s approximately 9.1 percent of the United States’s total economic output for the year. Since 2001, the Bush tax cuts have cost the federal government $1.7 trillion. These tax cuts will expire at the end of the year unless Congress votes to extend them. According to the federal Office of Management and Budget, if these tax cuts remain in place over the next decade, they will cost the United States an additional $3.3 trillion. If that seems unaffordable, it is. But does this matter to our elected leaders? Apparently not.

Democrats and Republicans in Congress are debating whether the Bush tax cuts should be extended in full or extended only for those households making less than $250,000 per year. No one is asking whether it makes sense to extend them at all.

No one, that is, except the bipartisan deficit commission appointed to plug that nearly trillion-and-a-half dollar budget hole. The commission came to the sensible conclusion that spending trillions of dollars to extend tax cuts already set to expire was, overall, an unproductive use of government resources. The budget deficit was one of the biggest issues in the midterm elections. Does anyone in Congress actually care about the deficit? If they do, they sure have a funny way of showing it.

It would be tempting to blame it all on the Republicans. When all 42 Republican senators signed a pledge to block all legislation until Democrats agree to include tax extensions for those making more than $250,000 per year, the Republican Party once again proved its dedication to improving the lives of America’s wealthiest citizens.

With their pledge, Republicans declared that stopping a marginal tax increase on 1 percent of Americans is more important than anything else on the federal agenda. The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia: less important. Plugging the budget deficit: less important. Remember that after the last stimulus bill passed, Republicans declared that the budget deficit threatened national security. Now they support a multi-trillion dollar deficit expansion.

But if the Republicans are misguided, the Democrats aren’t much better. They argue that the Bush tax cuts should be extended for every household with a yearly income of $249,999.99 or less. Over the next 10 years, this plan would save the government $700 billion relative to what it would have lost by extending tax cuts for the richest 1 percent of Americans. If the Democrats have their way and extend tax cuts for 99 percent of Americans, the government would lose out on $2.6 trillion between now and 2020.

The recession complicates the tax cut equation. Economic theory holds that an effective recovery is possible only when lots of money is available in the economy. Tax cuts, increased government spending and inflation are three ways to increase money supply. Together, these three activities stimulate demand in the economy and begin a self-reinforcing cycle of economic growth and job creation. Tax increases remove some money from the general economy. Therefore, during a recession, a tax increase could put a crimp on economic growth and slow down the recovery.

Many argue that the Bush tax cuts should be extended to avoid this kind of crippling tax increase. Peter Orszag, former director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Obama, has suggested that the tax cuts should remain in place temporarily for some income levels. His plan would limit the tax increase to those people least likely to spend their money — that richest 1 percent — and would also be an important step toward reining in the budget deficit. Unfortunately, Republicans have outright rejected this sensible proposal.

Tax cuts are a form of stimulus. Both parties are in favor of the Bush tax cut stimulus program, but their divide over the $250,000 bracket can tell us a lot about each party’s priorities. Republicans want to keep giving stimulus money to the wealthiest Americans, while Democrats support stimulus cash for everyone up to and including the slightly-less-than extremely wealthy Americans. Neither party is willing to address the budget deficit. The Bush tax cuts are a huge drain on the federal budget. Allowing them to continue in any form for more than two years would be truly irresponsible.

Seth Soderborg is an LSA junior.

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