Poison Pills, Presidents, and Policy
Paul Krugman misapplies the term “poison pill” to politics with rather amusing results.
A poison pill, in corporate jargon, is a financial arrangement designed to protect current management by crippling the company if someone else takes over.
As I read the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center’s analysis of the presidential candidates’ tax proposals, I realized that the tax cuts enacted by the Bush administration are, in effect, a fiscal poison pill aimed at future administrations.
True, the tax cuts won’t prevent a change in management — the Constitution sees to that. But they will make it hard for the next president to change the country’s direction.
So: Poison Pill = Politically Popular.
As my colleague Dave Schuler snarks at his own digs, “Damn those presidents! They do things that have lasting effects. By that analysis Social Security, Medicare, and the Pure Food and Drug Act are all poison pills.”
Quite right. Much more so, in fact. As hard as it is to undo tax cuts, our elected policy makers do it with some regularity. Indeed, it happened under Reagan, Bush 41, and Clinton. By contrast, the mere mention of incremental changes in Social Security benefits ignites open warfare.
Regardless, the idea that presidents are supposed to avoid championing popular legislation because doing so could make it harder for future presidents to pass diametrically opposite legislation is beyond asinine. We elect them as change agents who make long-term, strategic changes in our public policy not as caretakers.
Moreover, one suspects that Krugman is not going to write a similar column four years hence if, arguendo, a President Obama manages to pass universal health coverage and his Republican challenger therefore finds it difficult to propose capital gains cuts or new defense systems.