The Democrats have found themselves a fresh new cliff to drive over, everyone! Yesterday the party leadership decided not to vote on extending middle-class Bush tax cuts before election day. That just would've mobilized their supporters too much, you see?
For only the last nine or ten years, a staple of the Democratic party's national platform has been to repeal (or just let expire!) George W. Bush's massive tax cuts for the two top income brackets, whenever they retook the White House. It's been about as central a tenet to their identity in the past ten years as being pro-choice has. Constant Free Abortions and Ending George W. Bush's Rich People Tax Cuts: The heart and soul of the modern Democratic party.
But apparently nine or ten years was still not enough time for Democrats to prepare a competent legislative strategy for acting on this very simple and popular proposal.
Members of Congress knew that when they returned from their 1.5-month summer vacation this September, they'd quickly get to work on this plan — not only because it's respectable economic policy to allow marginal cuts on the top 2% of income earners to expire (which they're set to do on January 1) while extending them for lower brackets, either temporarily or permanently, but also because this was one of the few clear-cut issues that could wake up an otherwise exhausted, apathetic Democratic electorate.
But congressional leaders didn't start "taking temperature" of their caucus' opinions until a week ago, instead of preparing over the summer, acting quickly when they returned, and not looking like incompetent, unprepared failure monsters. And, predictably, a 30-something block of conservative Democrats in the House, as well as some conservative, endangered, or generally annoying Senators, immediately defied the White House and congressional leadership by supporting the Republican position of extending all Bush tax cuts. (These current complainers never seemed to have a problem with this middle-class-only plan when they rode Obama's Democratic wave to power in 2008, but let's not wade into the field of Blue Dog Democrats and Lazy Opportunism just yet. We won't bother them as they're enjoying the final month of their careers in elected office.)
And now Democrats won't even attempt to get their way, in a political season. Instead of trying to pass bills for the largest middle-class-only tax cut in history now, they'll wait for the lame-duck session following election day. And why? Because some Democrats who'll lose anyway are mortified of being labeled "tax hikers" were they to vote for a plan that doesn't disproportionately benefit the wealthiest 2% of Americans.
Nancy Pelosi would've been able to find the votes for passing this in the House. She's good at that sort of thing. And eventually some Democratic holdouts there would come to realize that taking a Democratic instead of Republican position on a major issue for once could help them get re-elected when they're running as Democrats. Then, in the Senate, would Republicans filibuster such a bill? Yes, probably. But if they did, there's nothing wrong with that! Democrats could've brought it up for a vote day after day after day for a couple of weeks, broadcasting Republicans' blockage of historically large middle-class tax cuts. And if Republicans stayed unified through the election, Democrats could then resort to passing it in a lame-duck session.
But now, this seems to be the Dems' devastating self-inflicted realistic doom scenario: Republicans will likely win at least one chamber of Congress on election day, then they'll start gloating about how they have a mandate to serve the people, and Democrats should stop rushing legislation since clearly America rejected their stupid faces, blah blah blah. Senate Republicans will have every incentive to keep filibustering the Democrats' plan through the lame-duck session. Then, unless the Democrats compromise during the lame-duck, the new Republican leadership in one or more chambers will introduce bills for permanently extending all Bush tax cuts — just as they promised to do in their comical "Pledge" yesterday — and eventually strong-arm the Obama administration into supporting it as the only tax-extension plan remaining. Obama's clearest and most repeated campaign promise was to not raise taxes (or allow tax cuts to expire) on Americans making less than $250,000 per year. If next year's Republican plan is his only opportunity to keep that promise, he'll sign it. Republicans will both take credit and continue attacking him, for not signing it earlier or something.
Can someone at the White House please let us know if we're gaming this wrong? Because this is how many people are gaming it, because it's kind of obvious. Yet all the White House seems to be saying nowadays is that Republicans are mean and scary and to blame for Democrats not even holding votes on their popular bills. The confidence, it radiates! It radiates. On another note, remember when political parties and politicians used to be interested in winning elections?
I'm paid to follow this horror show, is the thing. What's your excuse?
[Image via AP]