Political Animal


December 06, 2012 2:23 PM Chicken Home To Roost

By Ed Kilgore

As part of his long, smart series of posts on how the fiscal fights in Washington have wound up trapping Republicans, New York’s Jonathan Chait reminds us today that the inflexible position the GOP finds itself in was a product of a “Maginot Line” of anti-tax oaths and litmus tests constructed after George H.W. Bush agreed to a deficit deal in 1990:

The Grover Norquist pledge, the intense distrust of backroom bargaining, the monomaniacal partisan discipline — all these were created so that 1990 would never happen again, just as the French built the Maginot Line so they would never endure the horrors of World War I trench warfare again.
Of course, the Maginot Line was a huge failure. The Germans simply went around it, and once they had outflanked the line, it became a trap that prevented the French military from maneuvering. This is the situation Republicans find themselves in now.

That’s all very true. But there was an interim moment that contributed a lot to the current leverage Obama enjoys in the fiscal negotiations: the decision by Republicans to make the Bush tax cuts of 2001 temporary in order to utilize the budget reconciliation process (and with it the ability to avoid a Democratic filibuster) to enact them. And indeed, it’s often forgotten that George W. Bush originally rationalized the cuts as a “rebate” for taxpayers attributable to the sudden advent of federal budget surpluses—again, suggesting they were temporary and contingent on the overall budget situation.

Now obviously, Republicans had no intention whatsoever of letting the Bush tax cuts ever expire; they’ve constantly tried to cut high-end income taxes even more. But the mechanism they utilized to ensure a party-line vote (in the wake of a rather less than decisive 2000 election, you might recall) has finally backfired with the tax cuts’ pending expiration and the consolidation of public opinion behind the proposition that the wealthy can and should help deal with a wildly different budget situation than the one that prevailed in 2001. Took a long time for that particular chicken to come home to roost, but it’s arrived, squawking loudly.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Rick Massimo on December 06, 2012 2:37 PM:

    Well, they also thought they were being clever by making the Bush tax cuts permanent so that whenever they came close to expiring they could scream "OMG the Democrats want the LARGEST TAX INCREASE IN HISTORY!!!!," which is a lie of a talking point they still use on a daily basis (the expiration of a tax cut is not a tax increase).

    As usual - the last election being the latest example - they never think they're gong to lose and they never think anything's ever going to go wrong for them.

  • Peter C on December 06, 2012 2:49 PM:

    I'll admit that the deal that Obama struck in 2011 at the end of the debt-ceiling negotiations was a very clever one. I didn't appreciate it fully at the time, and it was a gamble, but I think it came out very well. I think he's negotiating cleverly now as well.

  • T2 on December 06, 2012 3:05 PM:

    as with pretty much every bill/law passed by George W. Bush, the Tax Cut screwed everyone in the end, GOPers included. As Rick points out above, the GOP expected to win every Congress and White House forever (God's will) and could easily manipulate the Tax thing to their liking going forward. But then we had elections and things changed.
    The entirety of the Fiscal Cliff is 100% a GOP product.
    And yes Peter C, Obama looks pretty clever, and Republicans, blinded by their righteousness, are flipping like frogs on a pole.

  • martin on December 06, 2012 3:18 PM:

    And the right wing crybabies start screaming the Chait called them Nazi's in 3,2,1...

  • lou on December 06, 2012 3:24 PM:

    Dems screwed up by not tying war funding to rescinding the tax cuts. That would have been a contingency of the first order. And would likely have shortened the length of the war considerably if it had been on the plutocrat's dime.

  • bigtuna on December 06, 2012 3:26 PM:

    What I don't think gets enough play [ see the earlier post by Ed today, regarding the lack of message discipline on the part of Dems] is that THERE IS ALREADY A SENATE PASSED bill to start to deal with the fiscal incline. Why? Because, as you point out, 11 yrs ago, they used reconciliation, and so before the election the senate passed a bill keeping the tax rates in place below 250 k income levels. I think the vote was 51-48. tee hee.

    How it came to a vote, and not blocked, is something I don't understand. But the wheels were set in motion years ago, by the repubs.

  • schtick on December 06, 2012 4:49 PM:

    Just goes to show everyone with a brain that the teapubs never keep their word. And lately that includes their pocket lining rich sponsors.

  • Cugel on December 06, 2012 5:07 PM:

    The reason the Republicans made the bill expire is because they didn't want to identify budget cuts to balance it. In short, as long as Republicans are in charge, well "Ronald Reagan proved that deficits don't matter." -- Dick Cheney.

    It's only when a Democrat gets elected that suddenly "I'm shocked! Shocked I tell you, to learn that there's a deficit here!"

    They thought that it would be politically impossible to allow the tax cuts to expire. They didn't anticipate the economic collapse of 2008.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on December 06, 2012 6:02 PM:

    Well, I don't know. Who's been had? Obama's BAD proposal only wants the top 2% to go back to Clinton levels and the rest to stay PERMANENTLY. And it looks like he's willing to deal away some entitlement benefits. While Republicans rail that this is Socialism, the Dems are celebrating? Seriously?

    Isn't that the very goal of "starve the beast."

  • DavidG on December 06, 2012 7:30 PM:

    Can a policy like that really be said to have "backfired" when it worked for a decade and caused such giant deficits that the Dems felt they had no choice but to restore paygo and Obama felt he had no choice but to fully pay for Obamacare?

    A decade is a long time for a policy that harms the country so much.