Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 7, 2010

NEXT STEP: PASSING THE TAX DEAL.... Striking a deal on tax policy was difficult. Passing the deal isn't much easier.

As should be obvious by now, the agreement has quite a few critics on the left, and congressional Democrats aren't exactly thrilled with the end product.

A bloc of Senate Democrats could decide not to support a White House-brokered deal on tax cuts and unemployment benefits, thereby putting the plan in danger, according to the second-ranking Senate Democrat.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) suggested Monday evening that many caucus members could threaten to back away from the deal as leverage to ensure it gets what it wants from a potential compromise with Republicans.

The House Democratic caucus has even more progressives in it, creating a challenge in that chamber, too.

And as it turns out, House Republicans will need plenty of convincing, too.

Some rank-and-file Republican lawmakers are uneasy about the tax cut deal their leaders struck with the White House.

Hours before the bipartisan agreement was announced on Monday, a few GOP members sent signals they weren't comfortable with where the talks were headed.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), in particular, said she and her allies would likely balk at any agreement that extends aid to those who've lost their jobs.

Most seem to expect the agreement to pass, but I think it's a stretch to consider it a sure thing, especially if the most liberal and most conservative members balk. To get rank-and-file Republicans on board, GOP leaders will have to do some selling. To pick up Democratic support, the White House has a sales job in mind, and the process will begin today.

[A] number of Democratic aides said it will be imperative for Obama to personally sell Members on why the agreement he cut in behind-the-scenes talks with GOP leaders is the best way forward.

Aides expect that Obama will have to make a personal appearance at one or more caucus meetings on both sides of the Capitol prior to a vote on the tax package.

"He's going to have to make the case," one Democratic aide said.

Vice President Joseph Biden will make an appearance at Tuesday's Senate Democratic policy lunch to begin that process.

I think pundits are probably making a mistake by assuming passage is a slam-dunk, but if I had to guess, I'd say it'll squeak by. Congressional debate will likely get underway on Thursday.

Steve Benen 9:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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I'm sorry, Steve. If Obama wants to get some Democratic support, he's going to have to quit selling out the very people who put him in office.

Posted by: azportsider on December 7, 2010 at 9:47 AM | PERMALINK

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), in particular, said she and her allies would likely balk at any agreement that extends aid to those who've lost their jobs.


Wild-Eyes Bachmann sure does have an interesting bunch of Christian-values allies.

Posted by: Oh my on December 7, 2010 at 9:50 AM | PERMALINK

Why does anybody pay attention to Michelle Bachman? Didn't she decline a position on the appropriations committee so the draconian cuts promised in the next congress wouldn't have her finger prints.

That said, I think Barack Obama is going to discover that a lot of folks in his base aren't exactly feeling loved right now. Sometimes you have to "dance with the one who brung ya."

Posted by: Ron Byers on December 7, 2010 at 9:51 AM | PERMALINK

Block that shit sandwich - I don't mind my taxes going up. Make the Republicans responsible for starving Americans.

Posted by: John R on December 7, 2010 at 9:53 AM | PERMALINK

Steve, why to you want SS to have its revenues cut by 1/3? That's what this "deal" does.

Reducing a tax of 6.2 percent by 2 percentage points is a 1/3 reduction.

Reducing the revenues SS takes in by ONE THIRD is the same as killing it. This rate will never ever be raised back to where it's at now.

Why not just rebate the 2 percentage points to workers from general revenue rather than actually reducing the rate and then "covering" the SS shortfall? SS was never designed to take money from the gov't but is a plan workers pay directly into. Now Obama has switched it from a workers plan to a gov't plan funded by general revenues.

I wonder why he did that.

Obama just killed Social Security and you are too stupid to notice.

Isn't it amazing that OBAMA can cut a deal that kills SS but on every other issue you folks have said he can't cut a deal until the Senate votes on it with 60 votes?

Killing SS is what he always wanted. Coincidentall, killing SS is what Republicans always wanted.

Can you explain how you can reduce SS revenues by 1/3 without killing it as we know it?

Steve, you and the rest of your so-called Democrats are dumber than a bag of rocks.

Posted by: Observer on December 7, 2010 at 9:56 AM | PERMALINK

Obama's "leadership," such as it is, has put Democrats in pickle after pickle. Obama's defenders argue that he's sly, patient, playing for the long gains, etc., but in the meantime he's not only stomped repeatedly on the progressive base that got him elected but also time and again gotten less through his weak negotiating than he could have if he have played his hand better. The tax deal is just the latest instance of that. It's pitiful and I wouldn't mind at all if the Dems rejected it.

Posted by: sjw on December 7, 2010 at 10:02 AM | PERMALINK

Observer, I take your point, but the real social security tax is over 13% so he cut the revenues by 1/6 and I think the cut sunsets without congressional action.

Posted by: Ron Byers on December 7, 2010 at 10:04 AM | PERMALINK

I would work with anyone to defeat this deal. We need to work with anyone to defeat any deal. The ideal deal is no deal. Let the fucking things expire. Period. The Clinton era tax rates are the correct tax rates. All this other crap is pandering. And extortion. You can't give in to kidnappers. They will simply take more hostages in some other situation.

Posted by: SW on December 7, 2010 at 10:07 AM | PERMALINK


I agree that no deal might be better than a deal especially in the long run, but do you really want to take money out of the pockets of hard pressed taxpayers right now? I think Benen's point that this deal might be considered a second stimulus is on point. Notice that Obama has worked to put more jingle in the hands of regular folks.

Posted by: Ron Byers on December 7, 2010 at 10:10 AM | PERMALINK

Would it really be that difficult to foresee FICA becoming another one of those taxes that can never be raised? And once it attains sacred cow status, SS will have the vaunted shortfall that the Serious People have been warning about for so long. Then, after the fix, FICA can be raised in order to ensure some deal where the upper tax brackets get permanent reductions. Say to 24%.

Am I being cynical?

Posted by: walt on December 7, 2010 at 10:12 AM | PERMALINK

@Ron Byers:
Okay, you can look at it as 1/6 if you count employer contribution.

But there is no way you can write "the cut sunsets without congressional action" with a straight face....SO DOES THE BUSH TAX CUTS
I mean, c'mon, this is how this mess started.

But the more important part is that he has switched where SS gets its money from. He could have just said the gov't out of the $120B funds will send checks to workers (while keeping the tax rate) and then it would be a subsidy not a tax and nothing to do with SS.

But that's not what he did. He has switched SS funding from workers to funding from gov't.

It's dead.

Posted by: Observer on December 7, 2010 at 10:13 AM | PERMALINK

You sure are going easy on Obama in this and the last post. You should change the name of this blog to the Obama Fan Club.

Let me spell it out for you. this wasn't bipartisanship. this was the republicans, once again, kicking spinless weakling democrat ass.

I loathe the Republicans. But I respect them for their willingness to fight. They don't give a damn about public opinion. They know Americans are influenced by spin and have a memory of about a day after a kerfuffle falls out of the news cycle.

We gave the Democrats control of the White House and both houses of Congress and republicans are still setting the agenda and achieving THEIR goals.

Posted by: Sheeeeez on December 7, 2010 at 10:17 AM | PERMALINK

Why should we care what Republicans in the House think? Its the Dems in the House, the Dems&Repubs in the Senate that matter.

Posted by: Trish on December 7, 2010 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

Killing the deal will make it hard, at least in the short term, for those relying on unemployment benefits. The Rethugs will have to cave on that eventually so it shouldn't be used as a hostage to tax cuts. if we're lucky this won't pass. Either way Obama comes out of it looking weak as ever. Disappointing is no longer the proper term for him. Now it's just plain embarrassing. Total deafness to the political zeitgeist doesn't get you reelected.

Posted by: rrk1 on December 7, 2010 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

I agree that no deal might be better than a deal especially in the long run, but do you really want to take money out of the pockets of hard pressed taxpayers right now?

Yes! You sell it as the austerity measure that everyone keeps harping on and even if it doesn't fly you should be willing to be a one termer over this issue. This is fundamenal. This amounts to throwing the entire federal government under the bus for chickenfeed. It amounts to agreeing with conservative philosophy that a couple of hundred bucks is more valueable to the average American than the goods and services provided by the federal government. It will destroy its ability to literally do anything going forward because it will enable to deficit hawks for a few lousy pieces of silver. It is terrible policy way worse than the simple pieces of it imply.

Posted by: SW on December 7, 2010 at 10:19 AM | PERMALINK

@Sheeeez: republicans aren't fighting, they are of one mind and one body. When your party is full of nothing but bots its very easy to get what you want by doing nothing at all. but you go ahead and respect them. save your sanity and join them even.

Posted by: Trish on December 7, 2010 at 10:20 AM | PERMALINK

I think letting all the tax cuts expire would be economic suicide. You take all that money out of the economy and put into deficit reduction and we are screwed. Then huge R majorities and permanent tax cuts. If you let them expire and then spend the money it would be more effective but that is not happening with a R controlled house. As for Obama desiring to kill SS? So silly. Thanks Ron for clarifying.

Posted by: KK on December 7, 2010 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

It's no surprise what Republicans will do come 2012.

1. If their sabotage efforts are successful and the economy tanks, they'll point and holler and say, "Trillions of dollars were wasted in spending and it has done nothing to help. We told you so."
2. If the economy putters along, they'll say, "Trillions of dollars were wasted in spending and it has done nothing to help. We told you so."
3. If the economy improves significantly they'll say, "The economy improved after the Republican House majority listened to the American people during the midterms and brought back austerity measures."

If this tax deal gets passed, add to hypothetical #3 Republicans saying, "See, tax cuts really work".

Posted by: Oh my on December 7, 2010 at 10:22 AM | PERMALINK

Anyone to the left of far right has to hate this deal--if taxes go back to the Clinton era so what? Remember Dumbya's tax cuts were skewed toward the rich--most people got a few hundred dollar tax cut. I am certainly willing to pay more to get our fiscal house in order and provide some safety net to those who are out of work. I renew my call to impeach Obama. The guy is a total fraud and I hope pelosi sticks his "deal" where the sun don't shine.

Posted by: Terry on December 7, 2010 at 10:23 AM | PERMALINK

Obama reminds me of a sinkhole ... always caving in.
So basically, the Dems missed a golden opportunity prior to the election to push through tax cuts for middle America without extension to ultra-rich or force Repubs to block it. Now, Dems are "poised" to either pass horrendous tax cuts for everyone including the ultra-rich thus caving to Repub demands, OR the Dems can block the tax cuts and be blamed by the entire voting public.

I have completely underestimated how feckless and/or mendacious Obama and the Dems could be.

Posted by: ckelly on December 7, 2010 at 10:24 AM | PERMALINK

SS money is viewed as tax revenue. Money is fungible. Our social security problem is really an overall revenue problem. A short term cut in the rate isn't goint to jeopardize social security any more than a short term cut in the general tax rate. The cut in the social security withholding is best for most folks because every worker pays the full 12.4% tax on first dollars. Low income workers, many of whom pay little or no income taxes right now but do pay the social security payroll tax, are benefitted by a cut in the social security tax. They aren't benefitted by a 2% cut in the general income tax rate. Of course, a better more stimulative solution might have been to increase the earned income tax credit by a 5%-10% but that might have been very hard to sell Congressional Republicans and wouldn't have benefitted workers who don't qualify for the earned income tax credit.

The reason the bush tax cuts are being extended is that rich people have a lot of money and have spent a lot of it protecting their lower tax rate. Regular working folks don't have hate radio, Fox Noise and an entire political party working for them. The rate reduction will sunset on schedule.

Posted by: Ron Byers on December 7, 2010 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

Ron Byers: "I think Benen's point that this deal might be considered a second stimulus is on point."

It's not stimulus but letting folks who make $75,000 a year get a $3500 tax hike would have certainly been a drag on the economy.

And for everybody who hates Obama right now I suggest you turn your ire on the real culprits, the GOP who would just as soon see millions of Americans starve in the cold if they didn't get their tax cuts for the wealthy. There are already people who have lost everything they own, sold everything they can and have nothing to live on. Letting them die for want of $300 a month may be an option for you, it's certainly is the GOP, but it's not for Obama. What do you need to see? Somebody who can't find work pour gasoline on his head and immolate himself in Times Square?

I'll never forgive Republicans for the concessions they forced Obama to make to save people. Some of you will never forgive Obama for saving people. Shame on you.

Posted by: markg8 on December 7, 2010 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

@Sheeeez: republicans aren't fighting, they are of one mind and one body. When your party is full of nothing but bots its very easy to get what you want by doing nothing at all. but you go ahead and respect them. save your sanity and join them even.

Yeah, no libs/dems supported (and still support) a Dem who sold out to Wall Street (before he was elected). Or British Petroleum...

Posted by: SFO in 2008 on December 7, 2010 at 10:54 AM | PERMALINK

Obama wouldn't have had to make this deal if Congressional Dems had voted on the cuts before the election. Obama wouldn't have had to make this deal if the whole Dem party hadn't been caving to the repubs for 30 years.

It's damned hard to fight against letting tax cuts for the rich expire unless someone is actually loudly making the point that taxing the rich is good.

It's damned hard to fight against letting the rich oppress everyone else unless someone is loudly making the point that government sponsored wealth redistribution is good.

It's damned hard to fight conservatives when the liberals are too damned scared to call themselves liberals, so they call themselves progressives.

Posted by: Tim H on December 7, 2010 at 11:02 AM | PERMALINK

Kill that despicable tax cut deal and make the Fascist republican compromise.

Posted by: ghostcommander on December 7, 2010 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

Every revolution demands, and claims, innocent victims, but in the long sweep of history, their sacrifice is necessary, if that's what it takes to finish off the GOP.

I am sure if we asked them, those so inconvenienced would admit as much.

One question -- what's the best memorial to them? Commemorative stamp, or something tasteful and not too showy, on the Mall in Washington?

I'm torn.

Lenin is alive, well, and posting here.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on December 7, 2010 at 11:12 AM | PERMALINK

Let's say that "progressives" band together, kill the deal, and get publicity for it. Does that play out well? Is it better politically for them, for Democrats in general, for Obama, if they are viewed as responsible for that turn of events? Would it come across as "Progressives find their voice"? Or would it just play as "Democrats want to raise your taxes"? I'm curious where people think it would lead.

Posted by: FlipYrWhig on December 7, 2010 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

I emailed and called the White House this morning and called all three of my US congressional members. I suggest you all do the same.

White House: 202-456-1111

Senators list: http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

My Representative is a republican so I just let his staff person know I wasn't pleased that the he and the Rs don't seem to care about the vast majority of their constituents.

My two senators are liberal Dems and so I asked what their position was on the deal. One office told me that the senator was leaning towards letting all the cuts expire and the other hadn't taken a position yet. I think they'll be fighting against the blackmailers, ummm, Republicans.

Krugman has a great piece here:

Posted by: Hannah on December 7, 2010 at 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

Oh, and the president and Dems need to SHAME (loudly and often) the Republicans for holding the middle class and especially the unemployed HOSTAGE. And for being hypocrites re the deficit.

Posted by: Hannah on December 7, 2010 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

I got your trickle down "do-nothing" tax break right here..

Let this ridiculous non-strategy expire NOW! Democrats; come on! You get the actual look and feel of fucking the middle class! Do it, let the tax cuts expire; the only difference between this and all the other pussy assed bullshit you've done with a god damned majority in everything but the judicial) is, in this case, you'll actually be doing the country greater good! It's not as good as screwing minors but its a start!

Posted by: A very angry Trollop on December 7, 2010 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK

If I'd wanted to elect a Republican in 2008, I'd have voted Republican. Hopefully, this entire episode, no matter how it turns out, will convince a propgressive or populist Dem to quickly challenge Obama. He willing to trade some billions in employment benefits that do liile for unemployment percentages for hundreds of billions to trillions in tax cuts that do long term budget and policy damage -- and provide relatively little stimulus. It's truly selling a coat of many colors for 20 sheckels.

Obama has so many problems now of his own making that he must go. Otherwise Repubs are going to run against a nightmare combination of the worst of LBJ and Hoover for a generation. In foreign policy in Afghanistan and Iraq, Obama has set himself up for a costly no-win set of occupations/wars that are now his. His situation is at least as bleak as LBJ’s. In domestic policy, Obama now owns the Great Recession. He has no real understanding of Keynesian economics. He obviously believes that voters care more about bipartisan compromise and budget cuts than ending the economic crisis and that economic recovery requires Hooverian economics to balance the budget. Furthermore, he constantly acts as if he just compromises a little more, the Republicans might still meet him halfway.

Let's stop pretending. Barack Obama is a disaster as a crisis president. He has taken an economic collapse that was the result of Republican ideology and Republican policies, and made it the Democrats' fault. And the more that he is pummeled, the more he retreats and makes problems worse for any Dems but DINOs.

Unemployment measured broadly as it was in 1932 is around 18 percent. And unlike the 1930s, we don't have a strong Democratic president using Keynesian economics (at least in 1932-36) to dig our way out. Absent strong Progressive Democratic leadership, the Republicans going onto 2012 will easily (and with real justification) succeed in blaming the continuing crisis on Obama and the Democrats. Obama is rapidly becoming our Herbert Hoover who will produce Republican dominance of American politics for a generation.

The choices are stark:
Re-elect Obama to continue to undermine the economy, the Democratic Party, and the New Deal-Great Society legacy.

Pressure the administration to change course and back real progressive leaders and policies. Good luck with that and on compelling Obama to grow a spine.

Encourage and support a progressive candidate against Obama in the 2012 primary. At this point in time, most any vaguely credible challenger to BHO is likely to gain traction via press coverage and progressive anger. Impossible to gain traction?? Who would have predicted McCarthy would give any credible challenge to LBJ?

Were a challenge to occur, it might initially come from a populist politician deeply disturbed by events of the last two years. Say Sen Webb of VA. Or from the Progressive center left-- don't laugh- Howard Dean. I think neither would make it to any nomination in 2012 because once ANY challenge is made and some blood is in the water, I suspect several other better candidates would come out. Why?? Because I suspect any challenger gets much press and near-immediate support of 20%-30% of Democrats--- and possibly many independents if polled against Republican Palinistas enabled by Obama's timidity and incoherent policies.

If an initial challenger stepped forward and Obama looked like he could really be beaten, my choice for a dark-horse who could catch on in a second wave of challengers would be Gov. Brian Schweitzer of Montana. Ridiculous?? Very few would have predicted and strongly supported Obama in 2006 [I'll count myself among one of the very-disappointed few.].

Posted by: gdb on December 7, 2010 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK

Moments ago, Joe LIEberman said on MSNBC, "I think it's a good deal" At last, Steve Benen and Lieberman in agreement. Goose bumps galore.

Posted by: berttheclock on December 7, 2010 at 12:21 PM | PERMALINK

I count myself among those who are disappointed how this whole thing has ended up, but my anger is roused mostly by the fact that we ended up at this point in the first place. And for that I blame the Republicans primarily, for their screw-the-people agenda and their shamelessly cynical but sadly effective tactics. (And for that effectiveness, I blame us, the American People, who are often so short-sighted and superficial that we fall for their ridiculous spin over and over again.)

The hostage analogy is a good one. Imagine a bank robber has 50 hostages and has just killed one to show he means business. The hostage negotiators are able to talk him into dropping his weapons on the condition that he has a chance to escape. We're pissed, of course, that the criminal has gotten away. But the negotiators saved the lives of 49 hostages. What's the ideal outcome here?

For me the real test will be what happens in January. Now that they have nothing to lose, the Dems can come back hard by changing the filibuster rules and using every extra-congressional technique the White House has, to work on improving things. If they do that they can win back my confidence. But they really need to prove themselves.

Posted by: E.Hatt-Swank on December 7, 2010 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

I'm done with politics. There is no point in caring about this stuff when the people we vote for won't even try to follow our desires.

People will say, "Oh, but you can't stop being involved, this affects you, blah blah blah."

Well, you know what? My vote counts for shit. Yours too. It is not as if Obama or anyone else is standing up for us. The Oligarchs have won the day, and I see no silver lining to these clouds.

I see no reason to support the Democratic Party when they cannot even stand up for their own beliefs. I am tired. Just tired. I have lost all confidence in the party, and -for that matter- in our entire system. We're a nation for the rich, by the rich and of the rich, and the rest of us can eat crap and like it.

We can't win. Hell, we can't even put up a decent fight. I'm done. Time to be one of those citizens who doesn't vote or care about the process. Because the process doesn't care about us, our legislators don't care about us.

So, yeah, it's been nice reading your sight. You kept my faith up for a long time, Steve -since about 2005 over at Carpet Bagger. But me, you, and all the rest of us schmucks, we're powerless. We're tools. We think that because we are informed and passionate that we can make a difference.

Well we can't. We don't run this country; it's not a Democracy. It's a Republic, or it was, because these days it doesn't matter who is in office, they are all going to serve the corporate agenda. We've got nobody in our corner, regardless of the rhetoric.

Our elected leaders are handing this nation over to the 1%. . . actually, they already HAVE. So to hell with it all. Ignorance, as they say, is bliss. Time for me to try and be happy.

Posted by: Mitch on December 7, 2010 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

We've all seen this scene many times.

The Republicans are the "bad cop".

The Democrats are the "good cop".

And they are browbeating the American people to "take the deal" that the DA (the ultra-rich corporate oligarchs) have put on the table.

We're trying to help you out here. Take the deal.

Or else.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on December 7, 2010 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK

Given the magnitude and the huge number of unknowns this massive tax deal will have on the economy and our economic future, you have to report that a dingbat like Michele Bachmann is going to fall on her rubber sword over extending unemployment benefits - for 13 freakin' weeks! Are you kidding me! This is newsworthy?

Posted by: max on December 7, 2010 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

I second Hannah and urge everyone to CALL THEIR REPRESENTATIVES.

I did it in under 5 minutes. Let them know that this deal does nothing but make the situation worse.

As long as Obama gives republicans what they want when they want it, the GOP will never face the heat for the consequences. They will make sure Obama owns that come 2012.

Posted by: bdop4 on December 7, 2010 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

I think Progressives should run Dennis Kucinich and Bernie Sanders against the President in 2012. That should make EVERYBODY happy.

Posted by: BillyBobSchranzberg on December 7, 2010 at 4:39 PM | PERMALINK
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