Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 12, 2010

HOPING TO CLEAR UP 'MIXED SIGNALS'.... Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), who was on board with the original tax plan presented by President Obama, this morning lamented the "mixed signals" coming from the White House on tax policy.

That seems more than fair. The president and his team have been open to negotiation (which is fine), but in the process, have been inconsistent at times as to what they want (which isn't fine).

But regardless of what we hear from White House staffers and through unsourced reports, the best sense of President Obama's approach to any dispute is President Obama himself. And this morning, he adopted a line far more encouraging than the one we heard from David Axelrod on Wednesday.

After yesterday's mini-freakout over what exactly White House adviser David Axelrod told the Huffington Post about President Obama's intention to cave to Republicans urging an extension of all the Bush tax cuts -- not just those for middle class incomes -- Obama took time out of his swing through Asia to reiterate his opposition to the GOP plan.

"Here's the right interpretation -- I want to make sure that taxes don't go up for middle class families starting on January 1st. That is my number one priority for those families and for our economy." Obama told reporters gathered in Seoul, South Korea when asked about the Huffington Post article, in which Axelrod appeared to suggest the White House was backing off its strong opposition to extending the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy.

"I also believe that it would be fiscally irresponsible for us to permanently extend the high income tax cuts," Obama said. "I think that would be a mistake, particularly when we've got our Republican friends saying that their number one priority is making sure that we are dealing with our debt and our deficit."

The president concluded, "But I'm not going to negotiate here in Seoul. My job is to negotiate back in Washington, with Republican and Democratic leaders."

Obviously, these remarks are preferrable to Axelrod's, and suggest the White House position hasn't really changed. The next step, then, is to see how the president and his team proceed on the policy.

CNN, meanwhile, is reporting today that there's an "emerging tax cut compromise" that would simply keep the existing tax rates in place for everyone -- without paying for any of it, of course -- for a year or two.

Under no circumstances should that be considered a "compromise." A policy in which Republicans get everything they want for a couple of years, at which point we'll do all of this again, would feature no concessions from the GOP -- which, oddly enough, continues to fight against permanent tax cuts for the middle class, a detail Dems should probably be repeating a little more often.

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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Comments

I put these comments right up there with "I still strongly support the public option." Meaning, everything's up for grabs!

Posted by: Susie Madrak on November 12, 2010 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

How is the GOP fighting against permanent tax cuts for the middle class?

Boehner said he supports them -- he just wants them for everyone. “If the only option I have is to vote for some of those tax reductions, I’ll vote for it.”

If the GOP opposes these middle class tax cuts why is no one mentioning it at all?

Posted by: _zack_ on November 12, 2010 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

Obama's comments aren't really that different than Axelrod's if you look at what he didn't say: given the 'reality' of politics, they might just cave nonetheless.

This could be (yet another) excellent opportunity to spotlight Democratic ideal vs. Republican ideals. Remind people what GWB did: he gave tax breaks that were completely unfunded, which contributed hugely to our current economic mess, and which he purposefully 'put off' until 2010 - now. Here is why it's bad to keep them, here's what the Republicans want to do.

It's not rocket science. This is pure messaging--with the added bonus that this particular messaging is based in fact. I'm tired of the information vacuum being filled with conservative rhetoric and lies. But if that's all people hear, that's what they will believe.

But this is all elementary. The question is, why are the Democrats so bad a messaging? At some point, one has to consider that they choose to be bad--they choose not to fight--not that they are inept at it. And why that may be.

Posted by: terraformer on November 12, 2010 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

i don't want my fucking tax cuts.

Posted by: just bill on November 12, 2010 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

Naturally liberals want to tax the rich. but if that happens there is no incentive for the rest of us to aspire to higher incomes.

Posted by: Al on November 12, 2010 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

At least the "mini-freakout" was acknowledged and addressed - it was a warning to the White House of the "big-freakout" coming if there is capitulation to the Republicans on this issue.

This is a pretty easy issue for the president to show some spine on, and if he fails, his base, which is already unhappy, will be ready to throw in the towel.

Posted by: delNorte on November 12, 2010 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

More nonsense fron Obama. The proper way to frame the issue is that the economy is in the toilet, we have millions of Americans who desperately need government assistance until the economy recovers. The GOP has said that we can not keep spending money we do not have. While I can debate the urgency of the situation, by number 1 priority is to to continue to have the money to help suffering Americans and use the power of the government to aid the economy. We can not do that if the rich do not pay their fair share, just as they did during Bill Clinton's administration. I would like to see all Americans earning below $250K keep the tax cuts they got--and by the way that means those making more than $250K will keep those lower rates on the first portion of their income, but the GOP says no and because my first priority is the suffering of Americans I will veto any legislation that extends the tax cuts for the wealthy for a day past December 31, 2010. This is not rocket science.

Posted by: terry on November 12, 2010 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

terry, it doesn't matter what you want to see, or what Obama wants to see, if Democratic senators don't agree. They want the continuation of all tax cuts.

_We went through all of this already_ with the Peter Orszag article about how the compromise might be a temporary extension of the upper-income tax cuts. Why is everyone working themselves into a frenzy about the thing everyone has been expecting for months? Just because frenzy is fun?

Posted by: FlipYrWhig on November 12, 2010 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

I would make the same point to Steve that I did to terry. "Dems" don't want to repeat that point because many of the Senate Democrats actually do want to continue those tax cuts. They don't want to draw a distinction from the Republicans because there _isn't_ actually a distinction from the Republicans. It's a stance _they_ took. Obama has been clear all along about what he wants. Senate Democrats want something else. And the legislature makes the laws.

Posted by: FlipYrWhig on November 12, 2010 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

Here is a prediction: Tax cut for the rich will pass. The reason -- Democratic Senators. The usual suspects:
Ben Nelson -- You can take it to the bank that he is not voting for middle class only tax cut. He is up for reelection in 2012. Do you think he will let his opponent run ad that he "increased" taxes?
Claire Maccaskill: Tough reelection in a conservative state. Not voting for any tax increase period. She wants to be continue to be a senator and thinks voting like a repub on taxes will give her the best shot.
Evan Byah - Not running but he is just an asshole. Will not vote for middle class only tax cuts because that is too far left...not centrist enough.
Same for Joe Liebermann,Mary Landrieu, Bob Casey, Mark Warner, Jim Webb. Heck, I don't know if Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand will vote for middle class tax cut only and piss off their rich wall street donors. Now several of these senators will say the right things in public but will tell Reid in private that middle class only tax cut bill will fail.

The Rich will win. There is a reason people crave money. With it comes power, they will use that power to get things they want. The only power the poor/middle class have is to vote. Sadly, many of them chose not to use it on November 2nd.

People can blame Obama all they want. A tax cut bill that does not include tax cut for the rich will NOT pass. 42 Republicans will be unified in opposition and will be joined by 10 democrats.

Obama is a president not a dictator. There is nothing he can say or do to change these senators minds. In fact,I bet some one like Claire Maccaskill is telling him .. I stuck my neck out for you on healthcare and so many other things over the last two years,now give me some cover tax cuts.

In fact, it makes me appreciate how Reid managed to hold 60 on so many votes.

Get real folks, Tax cut for rich will pass.

Posted by: tt on November 12, 2010 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

"Naturally liberals want to tax the rich. but if that happens there is no incentive for the rest of us to aspire to higher incomes."

Posted by: Al

Which ought to make the current Rich very happy not to have you competing for those limited "Rich Man Dollars" out there.

Of course, when you are making a million dollars the fact that your taxes go up 3% just makes you want to make one and a half million dollars. Have to pay for the shopping habits of those trophy wives after all.

By the way Al, the reason you are NOT rich is your are stupid enough to believe the crap you believe about taxes on rich people.

Posted by: Lance on November 12, 2010 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

Well. Nancy has said NO to the top tier extensions.

So that's that. Reid can put a brake on it too - just push through the middle class cuts through some sort of reconciliation bill.

Then let the GOP go out and argue why Bill Gates should get a tax cut.

Posted by: fourlegsgood on November 12, 2010 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

-zack-

“If the only option I have is to vote for some of those tax reductions, I’ll vote for it.”
Boehner

You ask why doesn't this mean Boehner is not opposing the President's proposal?

Let's see if I can help you with understanding why this is BBS ("Boehner Bull Shit").

There are 2 Houses of Congress. The minority in the Senate - that would be the Republicans, the same clan as Mr. Boehner hails from - is, for reasons no one can convincingly explain, unwilling to allow an up or down vote on ANYTHING that could conceivably be interpreted as an accomplishment by President Obama. (You may have heard something about this.) They have made it quite clear that includes the President's proposal to extend tax cuts for those who will actually spend the money and help the economy as opposed to extending it for those who don't need it and therefore will put it in their off shore bank accounts with all their millions.

Now, where was I.

Oh yes the Republicans in the Senate will not allow a vote on the President's plan, so the Republicans in the House, along with those GD Blue Dogs- are arguing it should not even be considered or voted on there because, well, they say it won't go anywhere in the Senate.(Don't ask for logic here.)

So when Boehner says he will vote for it if its the only Tax cut Bill presented to him to vote for, he is neglecting to mention that he is working night and day with his friends in the Senate to make sure he never is presented with that option. So its kinda like, you know, A BIG FAT WHOPPER!

Now you might well ask, since all tax legislation must originate in the House, and since right now the Democrats still control the House and they could put the President's tax Bill on the floor and put Boehner to the test and make him vote for it or eat his words, why won't that happen?

I'm sorry I don't know the answer to that question.

Any smart people out there?

I hope you found this helpful.

Posted by: robert on November 12, 2010 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

Obama is not a passive partner hostage to Senate Democrats. If he clearly wanted and stated "I will veto any tax cuts for wealthy Americans", Congress would wail a bit but eventually Repub instincts would take over and he'd get a middle-class tax cut to sign.

But he continually refuses to draw lines and hold them, leaving us to wonder whether he's really on our side, or just a wimp. The next two months will be very telling, and will determine whether he gets a primary challenge or perhaps doesn't run at all in 2012.

Posted by: ElegantFowl on November 12, 2010 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

It would make sense for the administration to get on board with a few of the tougher proposals in the deficit reduction commission co-director's report, which has become radioactive since its release, in order to earn political capital by showing the administration is serious about deficit reduction.

Then, the administration could spend some of that capital by pivoting to the Bush tax cut stalemate and take a tough stand against extending cuts to the uber-rich on both populist and deficit-reduction grounds. By supporting other deficit reduction measures the administration earns credibility that it opposes tax cuts for the rich because their are fiscally irresponsible, not just because liberals hate rich people.

If Republicans refuse to cave in and insist on holding middle class tax cuts hostage in order to benefit their plutocrat benefactors, then so be it. Obama should hold his ground, even if the middle class doesn't get its tax cut. They could then be in a good position to make sure everyone knows that Republicans are to blame because they are nothing more than errand boys for the Oligarchy who pay their freight.

My guess is that if Obama put the deficit commission and tax cut issues together in this way, that Republicans would pay the same price on the tax cut issue that they paid 16 years ago when they shut down the government in a futile effort to cut Medicare.

Posted by: Ted Frier on November 12, 2010 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

I think Obama should have taken a much stronger stance a long time ago. He should have given repubs a choice between his plan, or letting the tax breaks expire for everyone. No ifs, ands or buts. What's for him to lose? No matter what he does, the GOP and it's media machine will scream about his lack of cooperation.

Posted by: JoeW on November 12, 2010 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

Lessee our Gov'mnt been out of money for a long time, we have not been paying what it costs to have all we want,and do all we want, and this president says this:

"Here's the right interpretation -- I want to make sure that taxes don't go up for middle class families starting on January 1st. That is my number one priority for those families and for our economy."

This is not the words of the leader of a nation full of great citizens to those people, its the words of the YooHoo ad voice between segments of Bozo, to his target segment....

He already spent money we do not have, how can he now give it back to us, and how can we say "Yes, please"?

Hello America, any thinking adults left??? If we cannot say we don't have any money and do not now deserve money back for not paying enough (from welfare recipient up to the uber-rich) for a long time, we ARE fucked. Who cares the LEVEL of guilt we each have.

Posted by: pretty dumb on November 12, 2010 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

would simply keep the existing tax rates in place for everyone -- without paying for any of it, of course

On the planet in which the Repubs live, tax cuts are not something that have to be paid for. The Galt like chant of "It's My Money" means tax cuts NEVER have to be justified. Hell, they passed them 10 years ago knowing exactly what was going to happen, but the deficit hawks and proto-teabaggers cheered them on.

Posted by: martin on November 12, 2010 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

Apparently there are infinite ways to avoid presenting as simple an object as "The country has squandered its lead position in the every measurable way aside from hubris , three martini lunches , and tanning salons , and spray tan saloons" .
The need to overlook the material suffering of the eighty five percent of Americans who actually notice that there is Great Recession is made into an imperative by the echo chamber set up by plutocrats who engineered a corporate court , and then endlessly promoted the propaganda's by their own corporate media .
A great recession brought about by avoiding the very same decisions which step by step ushered in the worst economic environment since the Great Depression . This was bracketed by repeated tax cuts that promoted a few individual , or less than five percent of the public , into wealth that is no longer a functioning part of the national , or world economy but a dusty statistic on a ledger that concerns a few accountants , and wins some bragging rights , or yawning contests in isolated communities of stratospheric wealth .
The loss of regulation in communications over the formerly "Public" airwaves into the private property of corporate discretion with no initiative beyond the bottom line has served to present a very good medium to promote a few private foundations of extreme wealth and power , in exchange for a very poor medium of presenting information to the public .
Difficult for an eighth grade student , impossible for most rich men , and unconsidered by the families working around the clock with little time aside from essentially , perpetually meeting bills hopefully in timely fashion .

Posted by: FRP on November 12, 2010 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

America is committing a secular sin by extending tax breaks worth millions of meals to the rich when almost 1/3 of Arizona kids live in poverty. When Exxon's quarterly profit is higher than the GDP of Afghanistan and millions of people are losing their houses, a secular sin is to let them remain untaxed. 

Extending the tax cuts does nothing for society but gives people like Paris Hilton more $10,000 Hermes handbags, music industry execs another $200,000 Ferrari or Real Estate Barons like Donald Trump more $30,000 Rolex watches. Extending these tax cuts shows a deep indifference to those whose shoulders they stand on when millions of people are unemployed and tens of millions do not have health insurance.

Without those millions the über rich would be impoverished. America's wealthy would never be that wealthy without our laws, educational system, infrastructure, and hard working, ill-paid people.  One cannot produce excess wealth stranded alone at the bottom of the Grand Canyon!    

As there are no second class souls in Heaven, so should there be no souls 'more equal than others' on earth. This means a more progressive income tax system and not only opposing the extension of the Bush tax cuts for the rich, but restoration of the top rates restored to the pre-Reagan level.

People who wear shoes from Saks on the streets Scottsdale that cost a $1000 dollars should be scandalized to indulge in public displays of wasteful spending when families go hungry in Arizona. Tax the excess wealth of the über rich now.  

Posted by: KurtRex1453 on November 12, 2010 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK

Why the hell aren’t the Dems just convening a lame-suck session and passing the Middle-class tax cuts in the House and sending them to the Senate ? When the Republicans filibuster, the Dems would OWN the damn issue.

Posted by: Joe Friday on November 12, 2010 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

"the rest of us to aspire to higher incomes." Al.

You say that like it is a GOOD thing! But studies show that rich ($250K) people are 34% more likely to be taking anti depressant drugs, than those earning less than $50K per year.

The famous Happiness Quotient shows that "satisfaction/quality of life" is highest among those earning between $35K and $75K per year. Above that, there is a steady decline.

Posted by: DAY on November 12, 2010 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK

"Here's the right interpretation -- I want to make sure that taxes don't go up for middle class families starting on January 1st....I also believe that it would be fiscally irresponsible for us to permanently extend the high income tax cuts," Obama said.

This only clarifies precisely what Axelrod said. The solution that meets these conditions is to extend both the middle and upper class cuts for another two years.

Posted by: dr. bloor on November 12, 2010 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

Why the hell aren’t the Dems just convening a lame-suck session and passing the Middle-class tax cuts in the House and sending them to the Senate ? When the Republicans filibuster, the Dems would OWN the damn issue.

Why, you ask? Because they don't want those tax cuts to expire any more than McConnell or Boehner want them to expire, that's why.

I used to think the Dems were just bad a messaging. But I've come to conclude that the Dem leadership has sworn the same oaths of fealty to the corporate class their GOP breahtern have.

Posted by: Doctor Whom on November 12, 2010 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

@dr. bloor is correct

Obama reinforced Axelrods words. Here's a clue for the slower among you- "permanent" vs "temporary"

Posted by: dualdiagnosis on November 12, 2010 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

Why the hell aren’t the Dems just convening a lame-suck session and passing the Middle-class tax cuts in the House and sending them to the Senate ?

Like Doctor Whom said, and tt above, it's because many of the Democrats in the Senate really do want all of the tax cuts to continue.

@ ElegantFowl: Obama is not a passive partner hostage to Senate Democrats. If he clearly wanted and stated "I will veto any tax cuts for wealthy Americans", Congress would wail a bit but eventually Repub instincts would take over and he'd get a middle-class tax cut to sign.

You really don't think they could override that veto? I think that the center-right Democrats would be licking their chops.

The Senate Democrats don't want the House Democrats to put them on the spot. They're probably afraid that without the additional cut for the top 2%, they'll be on the receiving end of ads about how they raised taxes by $700B during a recession. They don't have confidence in their ability to argue against a line like that. I hope Nancy Pelosi puts them on the spot and makes 'em squirm.

But anyway I'm pretty sure that the "compromise" that everyone is all mad about--"permanent" extension on the first $250K, "temporary" extension on amounts above that--is between Senate and House _Democrats_, not between Democrats and Republicans.

Posted by: FlipYrWhig on November 12, 2010 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

So the dims just figured out they got hosed by the repugs on what temporary means. Sure, they could have and should have used an opportunity like the bailout of Wall Street to end the Bush era tax gimmick for the wealthy, but that would have meant showing which side they are own, even though the lack of a gesture like that does it for them.
Now that they've outfoxed themselves, or perhaps it was their strategy all along, by waiting to the deadline to do the repugs bidding, if they weren't dims, they'd pass a temporary surtax called the deficit reduction tax on the wealthy that stays in effect until all deficits run up in the Bush years are paid, with interest.

But of course, that's not going to happen when the middle class can still be ramped and pillaged by adopting the rationales of an unelected "reform" committee.

When the supposed left's leadership leads to the same results as the confirmed right would have, why do we even pretend that the supposed left's leadership needs to stay in place?

Posted by: gone_west on November 12, 2010 at 4:16 PM | PERMALINK

Guys, don't get too excited by Al. Or fake Al. Or whoever that commenter is. A couple of years ago Al posts seemed to be a bit less simple minded, but consistently expressing the right wing party line. More recently they are just obviously dumb recaps of the right wing party line. Maybe that's when fake Al took over. Or real Al got stupider.

Posted by: emjayay on November 12, 2010 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK

Why are we always left reading the tea leaves about Obama's intentions? Did people have to read the tea leaves to figure out what Harry Truman thought?

Why can't Obama draw a line in the sand as many of you have suggested in various ways? Let all the tax cuts expire, explain to the American people that that was the original Republican plan and that he refuses to let Republicans continue tax cuts for the rich and super rich for 700 billion in more deficit (which is supposed to be the teabagger types big issue), and propose some equivalent new tax relief for the middle class. It seems so simple. Even if he didn't quite get his way, he would look decisive and doing everything he could to fulfill campaign pledges he ran on. Like ending DADT. Like the public option. Like closing Guantanamo.

Oh. Right......

I continue to think that the main Obama problem is never being a governor or in the White House before or running something. Plus an endlessly compromising and accomodating aspect to his basic personality. Plus an apparent refusal to learn.

And he seemed to be so smart....

Posted by: emjayay on November 12, 2010 at 4:48 PM | PERMALINK

al ain't been hittin' on all cylinders lately.

on a more serious note, i think one of the biggest mistakes the dems made before the election was to punt on the tax cuts. i don't know how much of a difference it would have made, but things couldn't have gotten that much worse for them, that's for sure ....

Posted by: mudwall jackson on November 12, 2010 at 5:05 PM | PERMALINK

Obama's comments aren't really that different than Axelrod's

This covers it nicely. Why anybody would think there's some distinction completely escapes me. What conceivable "compromise" could there be but extending all the tax cuts?

Posted by: Swift Loris on November 12, 2010 at 5:18 PM | PERMALINK

Let all the tax cuts expire as they were meant to do which is why they only passed via reconciliation.

Then put forth a bill to give tax breaks to the middle class and dare the republicans to filibuster it. Doing anything now while both tax giveaways are standing would just bring havoc and bickering.

The American people understand this and back allowing tax giveaways for the ultra rich to expire.

Axelrod is an idiot for even suggesting there should even be a conversation about extending tax breaks for the rich another 2yrs. That would guarantee Obama loses the WH in 2012.

Like FISA vote, the public option, refusing to investigate Bush/Cheney, and a refusal to make recess appointments in the midst of Republican blackmail, Obama's track record is to cave in only this time it will cost him the presidency.

His chief adviser should know this beyond doubt...emphatically demanding the tax "loans" of billions to billionaires and millionaires is allowed to expire as it is wrecking the economy and has "proven" not to have achieved anything goal which was used to justify giving it in the first place. Ten yrs and no jobs or manufacturing etc...just more outsourcing offshore and bonuses to CEOs.

These tax breaks were meant to expire, need to expire for the good of the nation, and the time has come for them to expire. Let them expire.

Then we are done with the Bush tax giveaways and we can now begin the Obama tax policies...period.

Posted by: bjobotts on November 12, 2010 at 6:27 PM | PERMALINK

Figure the increase of 3% on a million dollars then you'll see how pathetically greedy millionaires have become. Now multiply that by about 400 millionaires and see how quickly the needs of our budget could be met.

You are taxed at the regular rate for the first $250k. Only the dollars after that are taxed at a higher rate according to Obama's plan. Why would he want to compromise on that?

Posted by: bjobotts on November 12, 2010 at 6:44 PM | PERMALINK

bjobotts: not only that, much of their income is in cap gains (only 15% rate on that) or their highly paid accountants figure ways for them to not pay much at all. It's pathetic.

Posted by: PEA on November 12, 2010 at 10:20 PM | PERMALINK

"A policy in which Republicans get everything they want for a couple of years, at which point we'll do all of this again, would feature no concessions from the GOP...."

In short, the Obama/Reid approach to negotiation. Why are you so surprised it's happening for the twentieth time?

Posted by: Tom Allen on November 13, 2010 at 8:40 PM | PERMALINK

@Al: "Naturally liberals want to tax the rich. but if that happens there is no incentive for the rest of us to aspire to higher incomes."

Why not? If you make more money you still keep more money. You're talking as if the higher rates are 100%, not 39% which only applies to what you make MORE THAN #250,000. I've read the bullshit for years about how people don't want to get a raise which will put them into a higher tax bracket because they will have less total income than before. That's just pig ignorant about how the marginal tax rates work. In this case, the higher rates ONLY APPLY TO THE AMOUNT OVER $250,000. They pay the same as before on everything under $250,000, and that's taxable income, not gross income. People with that income can afford to hire really good accountants and tax lawyers to make sure they pay less than most of us.

Posted by: Jingjok on November 14, 2010 at 1:17 AM | PERMALINK
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