Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 15, 2010

DEMS SHOULDN'T FEAR A POPULAR POSITION.... The tax policy debate is pretty straightforward -- President Obama is emphasizing lower rates for the middle class; Republicans are pushing bigger breaks for the wealthy and higher deficits. Congressional Democrats don't seem especially comfortable with the debate itself, and don't know what to do next.

It's obviously a difficult election environment for Dems, but there's nothing for them to be afraid of here. In the last two weeks, six national polls -- count 'em, six -- show Americans clearly preferring Obama's policy to the GOP's.

Here's yet another report, based on a new survey from Democracy Corps.

This will be a tough election, but fortunately, the unfolding tax issue can work strongly to help Democrats and define the choice in the election. This is a case where Democrats are strongly aligned with public thinking and priorities. Only 38 percent favor extending the Bush tax cuts for those over $250,000 -- the official position of Republican leaders and candidates. Clearly messaging around this choice -- with Democrats voting for middle class tax cuts, while starting to address the deficit and protecting Social Security, contrasted with Republican candidates who still believe trickle-down economics and worsening the deficit -- works for progressives.

Democracy Corps' generic ballot shows Republicans with a seven-point advantage. After presenting voters with the parties' competing tax plans, the GOP lead shrinks to two points.

In all, the survey shows the Democratic tax policy as far more popular, 55% to 38%, than the Republican alternative.

The report concluded, "Progressives should welcome the debate over extending middle class tax cuts while letting taxes increase for the wealthy as Congress re-convenes. It reflects good policy during these tumultuous economic times, and could prove to be good politics for those facing an uphill battle this November."

DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) told Greg Sargent something very similar yesterday: "A vote on this issue would help crystallize the choices before the voters. It would demonstrate clearly that Republicans want to hold tax relief for 98 percent of the American people hostage in order to get tax breaks for the top 2 percent."

The issue may cut differently in various districts and states, but in general, this seems like a real opportunity for Democrats to capitalize on an issue where they enjoy strong public backing.

Steve Benen 11:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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Steve, you continue to ignore the obvious reality. Democratic leaders are not forcing a vote on this issue because they haven't got the votes to win. A decisive minority of Dems in Congress favor low taxes on the wealthy as a matter of principle, or venality, or cowardice. Take your pick.

Posted by: JMG on September 15, 2010 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

Then what, pray tell, are the Dems afraid of in this debate? I don't understand....

Posted by: whichwitch on September 15, 2010 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

The Democrats are not "afraid" to take this popular position.

They. do. not. want. to.

Posted by: somethingblue on September 15, 2010 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

The only poll that matters to Demcrats in Washington is the where the Republican's sit on an issue. They have no problem ignoring their base but the last thing they want is to risk alienating people who will never vote for them.

Posted by: thorin-1 on September 15, 2010 at 11:36 AM | PERMALINK

Anybody care to bet against Democrats shooting themselves in the foot on this?

Posted by: karen marie on September 15, 2010 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

Part of the problem here is that although "Republican" and "Conservative" have become synonymous in recent years, "Democrat" and "Progressive" (or "Liberal") are not synonymous at all. The Democrats may have huge majorities in both houses of Congress, but progressives are not in the majority.

Posted by: Daryl McCullough on September 15, 2010 at 11:58 AM | PERMALINK

Republicans want to hold tax relief for 100 percent of the American people hostage in order to get additional tax breaks for the top 2 percent.

Even under Obama's proposed extension, the biggest tax breaks go those making $250k.

Posted by: treetop on September 15, 2010 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

No. Better to cow to the Republicans. Maybe this time, they'll start being nice to Democrats. It's gotta happen some time, right? I mean, just because we've acquiesced to their demands again and again and again, applying tax cuts that are proven to not stimulate the economy in order to get minor improvements that are more muted because of said tax breaks...just because we took single-payer off the table in the health care insurance reform debate right off the bat, and then eventually had to take the public option off too...and still getting little, if not absolutely no support from the GOP...while they accuse us of wanting to destroy America, leading it toward an Islamofascistsocialisthomosexualistgodlessist society...and how we must be stopped by any means necessary and how their base should be armed and ready...I mean...this time will be different. I mean, it's just gotta be. We're due. Right?

Posted by: slappy magoo on September 15, 2010 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

The problem is the current generation of dominant consultants a) would benefit from the cuts for the rich and b) were permanently scarred by the tax cut wars in the 80's and cannot be persuaded by any empirical evidence whatsoever that opposing tax cuts under any circumstances is a safe position.

Posted by: The Fool on September 15, 2010 at 12:16 PM | PERMALINK

Pleaze, you average politician makes over $250k, easy. Asking these clowns, D's, I's, or R's, to essentially decrease their own take home pay isn't their 'popular position'.

Christ, I bet half of them are millionaires, with yearly incomes easily over $250, add in speaking fees, book deals, and the other zillion ways they profit in office and it's not hard to understand why this is not go to be an easy task.

From http://usgovinfo.about.com/od/uscongress/a/congresspay.htm

Rank-and-File Members:
The current salary (2010) for rank-and-file members of the House and Senate is $174,000 per year.

Senate Leadership
Majority Party Leader - $193,400
Minority Party Leader - $193,400

House Leadership
Speaker of the House - $223,500
Majority Leader - $193,400
Minority Leader - $193,400

Posted by: ScottW714 on September 15, 2010 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

decisive minority of Dems in Congress favor low taxes on the wealthy as a matter of principle, or venality, or cowardice. Take your pick.

Me, I'll go with (D), abject stupidity. I think we often attribute to greed, malice or political self-interest things that are more easily and accurately explained by the fact that many elected reps, especially Blue Dogs, are quite simply not that bright.

Even Joe Lieberman, who I believe is primarily motivated by vindictiveness, had a reputation in the Connecticut legislature for being surprisingly ill-informed about the actual business of the state.

Posted by: Jim on September 15, 2010 at 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

Good points above. I believe that the votes aren't there - due to too many 'Democrats' simply being against taxing the rich.

As noted, Democrats are not all Progressives. And nothing is more progressive than progressive taxation (it's in the name!). Being against progressive taxation pretty much ends the ball game for these Democrats. But it puts a spotlight on exactly who is and who is not progressive (as if we already don't know this).

Problem is, the establishment keeps intervening in Democratic primaries, and 99% of the time those interventions are in support of the candidate who is not progressive. What we really have is two parties - but they're not Democrats and Republicans; instead, they are Progressives and Republicans.

Many say we cannot start a third party - so we need to purge the Democratic party of non-progressives, and then rebadge it as the Progressive party.

Posted by: terraformer on September 15, 2010 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

The tax cuts for the rich isn't an either/or situation. They are set to expire, let them expire. If the Republicans want to spend their political capital by trying to extend the cuts, well that's their decision but they should know the Dems aren't going to go along.

All the Dems have to do is play the Republicans' own game: just keep saying that they are not paid for and they will increase the deficit.

Posted by: Marko on September 15, 2010 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

The only reason I can think of to explain the Democrats' timidity is that they are afraid to piss off rich liberals at a time when they need a lot of campaign cash. They can read the polls as well as we can.

Posted by: Joe Buck on September 15, 2010 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

Obama can shift the debate. He can say that he'll veto any attempt to extend tax cuts to the wealthy. If Congress does it anyway, they will get the bill back with directions to rewrite it. If he stands firm, the Republicans will be forced to cave, just as Democrats were forced to cave when Bush vetoed war funding bills with restrictions he didn't like.

All Obama's people have to do to win this one is just repeat, clearly, what Congress has to do to produce an acceptable bill.

Posted by: Joe Buck on September 15, 2010 at 12:58 PM | PERMALINK

I keep hearing President Obama and Democratic leaders talk about their desire to stop the tax increase for people who make over $250,000 per year, but let the current rate expire for those who earn more. Would it not be a better message to state:

"I want to Congress to cancel the scheduled Bush tax increase for the first $250,000 of income for EVERYONE. The income above that amount will be taxed at a slightly higher rate."

I believe this accurate, but a much easier message to convey and understand.

Posted by: Doc621 on September 15, 2010 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

Jeez, this seems so easy: Pelosi sends a bill to the floor extending the middle-to-upper middle tax cuts and a second bill extending the high earners' cuts. The corporate whore Blue Dogs can vote for both bills.

These cuts are all new legislation, the old tax cuts expire. There is zero reason to lump them together unless you really want to extend the cuts for all while saying you don't.

And for heavens sake have the House go first so they can set up the Senate for success. Reid is pathetic.

Posted by: Th on September 15, 2010 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

I want to Congress to cancel the scheduled Bush tax increase for the first $250,000 of income for EVERYONE. The income above that amount will be taxed at a slightly higher rate."

I believe this accurate, but a much easier message to convey and understand.



The Senate Dems should do all in there power, including bending as much as possible the silly ass rules that aloow the mere threat of a filibuster to prevent a vote,to debate and vote on "a cancellation of the Bush tax increase for the first $250,000 of a married couple's income."
Let the Rethugs block or vote against that.

Under no circumstances should the House Dems schedule a vote on the issue, unless - miracle of miracles - we win first in the Senate.

Posted by: robert on September 15, 2010 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

I disagree. The House Dems have the ability to get a bill through their branch of Congress.

They should offer up a clean bill that extends cancel the scheduled tax increase and extends the current rates on all income up to $250,000. Regardless of the merits of the proposal, it is first of all a promise made by the President during the 2008 campaign and at least implicity endorsed by Congressional Democrats, and secondly very popular.

They should then announce that while ammendments will be allowed to be introduced on the floor (if I understood what happened to a bill just before the recess, using "special rules" to block ammendments requires 2/3 support to pass the bill) but that the Democrats should reject all ammendments regardless in order to send a clean bill to the Senate. Make it clear that "No" votes on ammendments are not intended to indicate support or opposition to the content of those ammendments (to take the wind out of the sails of Republicans trying to force "tough votes" on ammendments).

If such a bill passes the House with overwhelming Democratic support and near unanimous Republican opposition, then it sets up the showdown we want in the Senate. It both offers the best chance of actually passing a bill, and the clearest choice to the voters if Senate Republicans succeed in blocking it.

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