Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 3, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

GOP POSTURING....Comedian David Freddoso at The Corner:

Democrats' failure to patch the AMT until after the deadline for printing IRS forms will result in tens of millions of late tax refunds. This is all about Democrats failing to get their act together and pass an AMT patch that doesn't massively raise taxes on everyone else, even though they were warned months in advance that this could happen.

Has Freddoso been taking lessons from his colleague in Beirut? Three weeks ago, because of this very issue, Harry Reid announced that he wanted to fast-track AMT reform. Democrats were all willing. So why didn't it happen?

Because Republicans insisted that they would only allow the AMT tax cut to come to the floor if they were allowed to offer up amendments for four additional tax cuts at the same time. This was obvious political posturing: none of the amendments would have passed, but they would have been good campaign fodder for 2008.

Bottom line from the GOP: no campaign fodder, no AMT fix. Because campaign fodder is more important than actually helping out middle class taxpayers who might get hit with higher tax bills. Let's get our story straight here.

Kevin Drum 12:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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IOKIYAR!!!

Posted by: Gore/Edwards 08 on December 3, 2007 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

(exasperated) So why isn't HE responding to OUR charges that delay will cost Americans timely refunds?

Posted by: theAmericanist on December 3, 2007 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

Triumph of Rovianism.

Posted by: gregor on December 3, 2007 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

Record number of filibusters in 110the Congress

December 2, 2007
The Nation
How the Filibuster Became the Rule
By DAVID HERSZENHORN

...But because modern Senate rules allow lawmakers to avoid the spectacle of pontificating by merely threatening the act, filibusters and the efforts to overcome them are being used more frequently, and on more issues, than at any other point in history.
So far in this first year of the 110th Congress, there have been 72 motions to stop filibusters, most on the Iraq war but also on routine issues like reauthorizing Amtrak funding. There were 68 such motions in the full two years of the previous Congress, 53 in 1987-88 and 23 in 1977-78. In 1967-68, there were 5 such votes, one of them on a plan to amend cloture itself, which failed....

It has produced a numbing cycle of Washington futility: House Democrats pass a bill, but Senate Democrats, facing a filibuster by the Republican minority, fail to get the 60 votes needed to end debate. Little wonder that approval ratings of Congress stink these days....

Posted by: Mike on December 3, 2007 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

As much of a lie as the Beruit incident, but due to our current journalistic practices, won't be called a lie by anyone but liberal bloggers.

Posted by: mickslam on December 3, 2007 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

Well, it just goes to show, the GOP doesn't really care about lower taxes, it cares about the rich. The main defect of the Democrats' plan to change the AMT was that it did not include some enormous sop to billionaire financiers or the oil industry. So you clearly see why it needed to be tabled.

Posted by: jonas on December 3, 2007 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

I'm sure everyone is shocked by the idea that Senate amendments with campaign implications might be offered to a tax bill. Amendments, yet, that were unlikely to pass and could have easily been stripped out in conference even if they did. The campaign is all, the campaign is everything, so boo on the Republicans and hooray for Sen. Reid, who has his priorities in their proper order.

Now, just to be contrarian for a minute, say Sen. Reid had been so imprudent as to allow Senate Republicans to offer their amendments to the AMT bill. The amendments get rejected, and Republicans are able to use them in campaign commercials. So what?

Those commercials could only be used against incumbent Democratic Senators in an election cycle that will see more Republican than Democratic Senators up for reelection. And delaying the AMT fix is not exactly something Democrats can brag about, or evade blame by pointing the finger at Republicans. Public approval ratings for Congress are at rock bottom, at least in part, because of a public perception that Congress isn't getting anything done. That perception isn't wrong.

And not for nothing, but the AMT fix is not the only legislation Reid has pulled off the floor to stifle debate on amendments his campaign message consultants tell him would be bad. He's so worried about denying Republicans material for campaign commercials that he's willing to let his Democrats take the heat for not legislating.

I know, I know. It's all the Republicans' fault. They are mean and brazen and crazy and all the rest of it. Fine, but the public is not buying that argument. If Reid wants to help his Senators deal with public resentment of a do-nothing Congress, he needs to have the Senate do something. Maybe that means making his consultants unhappy and running a political risk or two, but with Congress even less popular than President Bush Reid is running just as big a risk now.

Posted by: Zathras on December 3, 2007 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

Then isn't it a perfectly good interpretation that rather than allow the GOP some campaign fodder, the Democrats would rather let the patch linger in limbo til the new year?

Posted by: Yancey Ward on December 3, 2007 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

Because Republicans insisted that they would only allow the AMT tax cut . . . —Kevin Drum

It's not a "tax cut."

The AMT should have been indexed to inflation from the beginning. Call your member of congress to make sure that it gets back on the agenda for a permanent fix next year. It's one of the few things in the federal tax code that makes sense.

The Dems haven't been using class warfare to their advantage as they should. This is one of the issues that they should be beating the Rethugs with.

Posted by: JeffII on December 3, 2007 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

I love that while many liberal Democrats are unhappy with Congressional leadership for not being tough enough, Zathras takes Harry Reid to task for not being flexible enough.

Offhand, I'd say the Republican constituency needs the AMT change more than the Democratic one. Maybe that's the calculation Reid was making.

Posted by: Doctor Jay on December 3, 2007 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

If there was any doubt that the system is broken...

Both parties refuse to pass something that they both claim to want because they are stuck arguing over whether to bundle the bill with other provisions that nobody thinks will pass.

WTF??????!

Posted by: mk on December 3, 2007 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK

Doctor Jay writes: Offhand, I'd say the Republican constituency needs the AMT change more than the Democratic one. Maybe that's the calculation Reid was making.

Interesting you would think that. My perception is that the Republicans own the "we're for cutting taxes" side, and I would suggest that the Democrats need the AMT reduction as a way to establish that they care enough about general population tax "burdens" to push for more fairness in the AMT for the multitudes.

Posted by: pencarrow on December 3, 2007 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

These amendments are a poor excuse for the Dems' procrastination. What's the big deal about offering amendments?

Sooner or later the AMT bill will be introduced. The Reps will be able to offer their four amendments at that time. So, why wait?

Furthermore, the Dems have a majority, so they should be able to control the vote on these four amendments.

It's my understanding the ability to offer amendments to a motion is a normal part of parliamentary procedure. In this case, the Dems want to stifle debate by the use of a special procedure.

The Dems will get the blame for this delay and they will deserve it.

P.S. This delay will fit in with the Dems' delay on the military funding bill. Reid and Pelosi are putting politics before resposible Congressional leadership.

Posted by: ex-liberal on December 3, 2007 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

"Because Republicans insisted that they would only allow the AMT tax cut to come to the floor if they were allowed to offer up amendments for four additional tax cuts at the same time. This was obvious political posturing: none of the amendments would have passed, but they would have been good campaign fodder for 2008.

Bottom line from the GOP: no campaign fodder, no AMT fix. Because campaign fodder is more important than actually helping out middle class taxpayers who might get hit with higher tax bills. Let's get our story straight here."

Looks like our Kevin is devolving into a poor Kos knockoff with this "analysis."

So let's see if I understand his logic: The Dems who have the majority in both Houses of Congress were unable to pass a fix to the AMT because Senate Republicans wanted to offer four amendments that would have cut other taxes to the bill? Amendments that Kevin tells us would have been defeated anyway?

If this is true, why didn't the Dems voted down the amendments and still get a bill out of both Houses and onto the President's deck?

The reason, of course, is that the Republican amendments would have passed, what idiotic Senator up for re-election is going to vote down a tax cutting measure and the passage of those additional tax cuts would have split the House Dems from the Senate Dems about how to "pay for them."

So rather than have this fight between Dems, the Leadership simply didn't push for a AMT fix. That's the straight story you're looking for Kevin.

Just another example of the political statemenship, specifically the lack thereof, of your Congressional leaders, Reid and Pelosi, who couldn't find their own heads up their own asses with both hands.

Posted by: Chicounsel on December 3, 2007 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

"Looks like our Kevin is devolving into a poor Kos knockoff with this 'analysis.'"

No, dear, he's just reporting the facts, something that NRO (and you) appear wholly incapable of doing.

"So let's see if I understand his logic: The Dems who have the majority in both Houses of Congress were unable to pass a fix to the AMT because Senate Republicans wanted to offer four amendments that would have cut other taxes to the bill? Amendments that Kevin tells us would have been defeated anyway?"

Yup. The Republicans refused to allow a vote on the AMT unless they could vote on four additional, wholly unrelated and unnecessary tax cuts.

"If this is true, why didn't the Dems voted down the amendments and still get a bill out of both Houses and onto the President's deck?"

What part of the words "campaign fodder" are you having trouble understanding, dear?

Loved your "analysis," dear heart. Alas that it is wholly unconnected with reality and wholly unsupported by anything resembling logic, reason, or facts, and, hence, requires no additional comment on my part.

Posted by: PaulB on December 3, 2007 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

There's a real question in there someplace, about why the Senate majority couldn't stage the votes better: the majority leader has the primary right to the floor, and no piece of legislation can be amended more than twice. (That is, you start with the original bill, then your primary amendment, then a second-degree amendment TO that amendment, and so on to the second degree but no further: you can't have a third and a fourth and a fifth. Do the math, you get a tree: four angles at every vote.)

Now and again, there are Senate floor scenarios where the minority raises an issue, like Republicans want to do here, but the majority has enough voting control over the floor to arrange the votes so that the ONLY way for the minority to get what it wants is by doing something it does NOT want to do.

It's not equal to the 60 vote supermajority to kill a filibuster, it's more fluid -- and creative.

But if Republicans wanted a vote on particular tax proposals OR they were gonna make this dumb charge cost us in the spring, I'd like to know WHY nobody figured out a scenario where they would have faced a vote enough of 'em did NOT want, on a first degree amendment to which one of their cuts was attached as a second degree amendment.

Then the vote to table the first-degree amendment (which Republicans would have supported, to avoid the measure) would bring down the second degree tax cut measure, and we could move on to something productive.

Posted by: theAmericanist on December 3, 2007 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK

PaulB,

Exactly! Preventing the GOP from getting some campaign fodder was more important to the Democrats than fixing the AMT in time for the tax forms.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on December 3, 2007 at 4:07 PM | PERMALINK

It really easy to understand:

Republicans are always "principled" and Democrats are "intransigent" when they don't play along.

Posted by: Tiparillo on December 3, 2007 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

Loved your "analysis," dear heart. Alas that it is wholly unconnected with reality and wholly unsupported by anything resembling logic, reason, or facts, and, hence, requires no additional comment on my part.

Posted by: PaulB on December 3, 2007 at 3:16 PM

Since you consistently fail to offer "anything resembling logic, reason, or facts" to rebut any of my posts, perhaps it would be better if you said nothing at all, which is exactly what your comments amount to.

As Mark Twain famously said "It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt." Though I am afraid is it way too late to disprove your foolishness "dear heart." LOL

It seems that you are approving of the Dems failure to pass anything that would fix the AMT problem solely because of the "campaign fodder" that the Republicans might be able to use against them in 08. What a perfect display of political courage by your Democratic majority. LOL

Posted by: Chicounsel on December 3, 2007 at 5:00 PM | PERMALINK

Shorter Chicounsel: Unless you admit that W is the second coming of Jesus Christ, you hate America. QED.

Posted by: Red State Mike on December 3, 2007 at 5:32 PM | PERMALINK

Amid the static upthread, Americanist's question may have been lost. Just in the event it wasn't, though, it may have an answer -- namely, that although Sen. Reid has a Democratic majority in name, he does not in fact as long as four Democratic Senators (along with one Republican) are spending all their time in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Use of the amendment process and the Majority Leader's right of first recognition to make political point-scoring more difficult depends on the majority's ability to win a vote when it is called for. This doesn't get Reid entirely off the hook, since 1. bad amendments passed in the Senate can still be stripped out in conference, 2. bad tax amendments to an AMT fix would go to conference made up of members of Senate Finance (along with House Ways and Means) and 3. none of the four Democratic Senators running for President are members of the Finance Committee.

But Reid is highly sensitive to atmospherics, and may be even less likely to want floor debates on certain amendments because he lacks a sure working majority.

Posted by: Zathras on December 3, 2007 at 6:00 PM | PERMALINK

I don't know the details, but it sounds like Kevinn is wrong on this one. Here is the response from the guy on The Corner [note after Kevin basically defended TNR on their false anti-miliary journalist, he takes a swipe at National Review]:

Drum draws his conclusion through selective memory of what exactly happened in the months and months leading up to the Thanksgiving recess. Throughout that period, House Democrats refused to offer an AMT patch that did not include "pay-fors." In other words, they held middle-class AMT reform hostage unless they could "recoup" the money that the government "loses" by not forcing millions of middle-class taxpayers to overpay on the AMT. This is what their vaunted "pay-go" policy is all about: $80 billion in tax increases must accompany the patch, or they won't pass it.

Drum selectively omits this fact, which is everything. According to his interpretation:

Three weeks ago, because of this very issue, Harry Reid announced that he wanted to fast-track AMT reform. Democrats were all willing. So why didn't it happen?

Because Republicans insisted that they would only allow the AMT tax cut to come to the floor if they were allowed to offer up amendments for four additional tax cuts at the same time. This was obvious political posturing: none of the amendments would have passed, but they would have been good campaign fodder for 2008.

Bottom line from the GOP: no campaign fodder, no AMT fix. Because campaign fodder is more important than actually helping out middle class taxpayers who might get hit with higher tax bills. Let's get our story straight here.

This is very interesting. Of course, Reid only made his last-second gesture as Congress was on its way out the door. No one was, at any time, under the illusion that it would become law. House Democrats had already foreclosed on the possibility of changing anything — they wanted $80 billion in other tax increases, or AMT wasn't going anywhere. I would expect the Senate Republicans to oppose this using any procedural maneuver they can, given that most of them oppose tax increases in general, and President Bush has promised not to let anyone raise taxes unless it is over his dead body.

So if Reid offers, at the last second before a deadline, to pass a bill that he knows will never become law, does that represent a good faith effort to pass a bill? You can judge for yourself, but I certainly don't think so.

Considering that Democrats control Congress, and that their intransigence on the tax-hikes to accompany AMT will result in a tax-refund mess this spring, I'd say that my interpretation is spot-on. As AP recounts:

"But, honoring their pledge not to pass legislation that adds to the federal deficit, Democrats voted to increase taxes by $80 billion in other areas, including for investment fund managers. Tax-adverse Republicans voted unanimously against the bill and Bush said he would veto any bill that included a tax increase."

If Drum thinks it's amusing, I'll take that too — although most people online seem to think my attempts at humor are lame.

Posted by: brian on December 3, 2007 at 7:02 PM | PERMALINK
This is what their vaunted "pay-go" policy is all about: $80 billion in tax increases must accompany the patch, or they won't pass it.

So, just checking -- the government is supposed to go another $80 billion in debt to China rather than offset the fix with another tax?

I mean, I realize that $80 billion doesn't sound like a lot of money, but it's $24 billion more than the budget for the Department of Education.

But, hey, I guess we can just cut out the Department of Education and a few other useless things so middle-class people can get a few hundred more back at the end of the year. Sure, they'll have to come up with the $40,000 for their kid's 2008 college tuition out of their savings, but I'm sure they all have that on hand, right? Right? It's not like middle-class college kids need loans or grants to pay for their educations.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on December 3, 2007 at 7:45 PM | PERMALINK

Brian,

If you are going to quote someone, might I suggest the use of either of the following: quotation marks, italics, or blockquotes? Most people don't read closely enough to determine that you were quoting Drum's blog entry.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on December 3, 2007 at 7:46 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry. I did not know much about the subject, so I just quickly put in what the guy on The Corner said and it sounded like Kevin might be wrong or just seeing things through his view. I also realize it was pretty long.

Posted by: brian on December 3, 2007 at 8:22 PM | PERMALINK

I did not know much about the subject, so I just quickly put in what the guy on The Corner said

You don't say.

If brian, everyone's favorite faux-reasonable concern troll, had any credibility left to lose, that'd pretty well tear it...

Posted by: Gregory on December 3, 2007 at 9:10 PM | PERMALINK

I thought that "pay-as-you-go" was a GOOD thing?

So Brian is in a snit because the Democratic Congresscritters refused to fix a tax bill until they could find other sources of income to replace that lost by the tax bill? Rather than just putting it on the National Debt credit card and getting our asses even further in hock to China?

How did Republicans EVER get a reputation as a "fiscally prudent" party?

Posted by: grumpy realist on December 3, 2007 at 9:23 PM | PERMALINK

Just wait until Obama waves his magic wand and makes all that nasty partisanship go away.

Just wait until a Pres. Obama tries to get anything done and the Repubs in Congress just say "no".

Posted by: MarkH on December 3, 2007 at 9:27 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks, Zathras: there are a lot of folks 'round here who confuse static with a symphony.

The thing about political influence is that it is more like muscles than a machine: to build it requires EXERCISE more than a blueprint.

There's a great story about Tip O'Neill when Reagan was elected and he become a target for the Republican party, cuz he was (as John LeBoutillier said) a metaphor for the Federal government: "fat, bloated and out of control." There was a younger Democrat who saw an opportunity there, so he quietly went around testing his colleagues to see if a challenge to the Speaker would have any support.

O'Neill heard about this within hours, but he said nothing for weeks, while the guy tried to figure out what kind of platform an alternative opposition to Reagan would look like. Then Tip saw the guy at a Caucus meeting, turned to him casually in front of every Democrat in the House, and said bluntly: "Are you going to run against me?"

Then he waited. Nobody said anything. The guy wasn't ready -- so he finally said, "no." End of rebellion.

The key to stacking Senate votes is to ensure that the one the minority WANTS is the secondary amendment, and the one they DON'T is the primary one. They can only get what they want, if they vote for what they don't.

I don't think you need more votes than Reid has; just more aggressive creativity -- and a sense of timing.

Exercise.

Posted by: theAmericanist on December 4, 2007 at 7:54 AM | PERMALINK

zathras: They (GOP) are mean and brazen and crazy and all the rest of it. Fine, but the public is not buying that argument.


By a 2 to 1 margin, those who see little accomplishment in Congress's first nine months blame the inaction on Bush and the GOP more than they do the majority Democrats. Fifty-one percent place primary fault with the president and congressional Republicans, and 25 percent on the Democrats. Among independents, 43 percent blame Republicans, 23 percent Democrats and nearly three in 10 blame both sides equally.


http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/10/01/AR2007100101235_pf.html

ouch

Posted by: mr. irony on December 4, 2007 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

brian: Considering that Democrats control Congress..

110th Congress (1-year): 72-motions to stop filibusters

109th Congress (2-years): 68-motions to stop filibusters

- NYT 12/3/07

what happened to all those "up or down votes" the gop was sooooo keen on in 2006?

Posted by: mr. irony on December 4, 2007 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

What a freaking joke you are! I face a 33% tax INCREASE if the AMT fix isn't passed, and you have the gall to call it a tax CUT if the legislation is passed.

What the republicans are trying to do is prevent a massive, pre-authorized tax increase on 21 million, mostly "blue-state" voters. The democrats, if they're smart, will get this done fast, since it's all their constituents in NY and California who are going to get slammed by this tax!

Posted by: ed on December 7, 2007 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin's position, if I understand it correctly, is that the bill just passed by the Senate is the exact same one that was brought "three weeks ago" -- only now the Republicans did not try to amend it, whereas three weeks ago they tried to add "four other tax cuts" to it.

If so, then the Republicans blinked and changed their position in the recent bill.

But is this what actually happened? The article by Novak (which Kevin links to in support of the above thesis) does not state this clearly. It is possible to read it as saying that the bill that came up three weeks ago had the offsets in it (whereas this recent one that passed did not). If this is the case, then it is the Democrats that blinked. Does anyone know for sure?

There are already stories in the press that Democrats in Congress are not happy with this Senate bill because it does not contain offsets. Reid pushed it through primarily because of the IRS refund timing problem.

It's a complex thing -- but I hope Kevin has his details straight in this scrape with the Corner. I have not been able to find more specifics on the above.

Posted by: JS on December 7, 2007 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

Correction: Kevin does say (in his eqarlier post today) that this was a bill stripped of offsets. But his latest post wasn't clear on this. So the Dems in the Senate did back off -- but, it seems, the Dems in the House will insist -- as they should -- on the offsets. Who wins the posturing battle is probably irrelevant.

Posted by: JS on December 7, 2007 at 1:26 PM | PERMALINK

These comments were intended for another thread -- Dec. 7th 12:26PM. Too many windows open on the screen.

Posted by: JS on December 7, 2007 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK
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