There was a time when the Senate and the House could have pushed through an extension of the Bush Tax cuts for only the first $250,000 in income. They could have passed tougher estate taxes and a better package of stimulus measures than found in President Obama’s tax cut compromise. Unfortunately, that time was anytime before the mid-term elections, and that time has passed.
Saying this is not intended as finger-pointing, but only an acknowledgement of facts. This lame duck session does not have the time for a prolonged fight over the extension of the Bush tax cuts or the other measures contained in the compromise, nor do any of the liberal and progressive Representatives and Senators screaming about this compromise like they were mortally wounded have a competing compromise to offer.
Frankly, the current liberal/progressive brouhaha over the President’s proposed compromise is the kind of partisan posturing that so offends independent and Democratic crossover voters and does nothing good for the American people. If it results in this compromise being defeated, it actually risks doing real harm to the economy.
Outraged Congressional Democrats have compared the Republicans to hostage-takers, holding the middle class tax cuts and the American economy hostage to the Republican demand that Bush tax cuts also be extended for the approximately 2% of the richest Americans who earn more than $250,000 per year. The Republicans now seem prepared to allow all the Bush tax cuts to lapse on January 1, if these enormous tax cuts for America’s wealthiest are not extended.
“You can’t negotiate with hostage-takers,” the outraged Democrats are saying—but this is where the hostage-taker analogy breaks down. In a real life hostage situation, the hostage-takers risk severe punishment if the hostages are actually harmed. The Republicans, however, may rightly believe they will benefit in 2012 from letting the tax cuts lapse and harming the American economy. The worse the economy the more difficult it will be for President Obama to win re-election.
In this situation, a pragmatic politician with the good of the American people at heart forges the best compromise he or she can, and that is what President Obama has done. David Leonhardt, in the New York Times, published an analysis of the Obama tax cut compromise.
Leonhardt acknowledges the many less than ideal provisions in the package (such as the extension of the tax cuts for the wealthy, the reduction in the estate tax, and a lack of a cut in the employer’s side of the payroll taxes); but he also points out that the compromise’s many positive features (e.g. payroll tax reduction and a two year extension of unemployment benefits) make this a strong economic stimulus package.
The progressive strength of the compromise has earned the support of many of the most serious liberal research groups, including those run by Robert Greenstein, and John Podesta. These are progressives/liberals who are also hard-headed and pragmatic.
With the Republicans controlling the house and having a stronger presence in the Senate, for the next two years progressives/liberals will need strong pragmatic leaders capable of forging bipartisan compromises that advance American interests to the extent possible. Only this kind of leadership will prepare the way for Democrats to retain the presidency and gain seats in the House and Senate in 2012.
Keeping both the good of the American economy and the Democratic Party in mind, I urge you to write your Senators and Representatives and tell them to support President Obama’s tax cut compromise. It’s a bit like a Limburger cheese sandwich—it’s stinky but nutritious, and we will be better off if we develop a taste for it.