Friday, November 12, 2010

The great cave: How Obama and the Democrats are losing the battle over the Bush tax cuts

It was being reported yesterday that the White House was prepared to cave to Republicans and renew Bush's (highly unpopular) tax cuts for the wealthy. (See Carl's post here.)

Well, not so fast.

If we are to believe noted anti-progressive David Axelrod, Obama's top advisor, what he actually said ("We have to deal with the world as we find it," etc.) was, well, misinterpreted. As he wrote in an e-mail to WaPo's Greg Sargent:

There is not one bit of news here. I simply re-stated what POTUS and [Press Secretary] Robert [Gibbs] have been saying. Our two strong principles are that we need to extend the tax cuts for the middle class, but we can't afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthy.

Please note -- the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy will be extended, if not renewed or made permanent. Even there, on the extension, Obama has caved. Sargent writes:

The question remains, though, whether the White House will hold fast to Obama's demand last week that the extension of the tax cuts for the middle class remain permanent while extending the high end ones temporarily. The main sticking point is that Republicans won't allow the two categories to be extended for different durations, because that would force them to push for just an extension of the cuts for the rich later.

But why should the Republicans get what they want? This is an issue that many of us (notably TNR's Jonathan Chait) were writing about in great frustration before last week's elections. Why not separate the two and force Republicans to defend publicly their support for making the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy permanent?

Obviously, the Democrats aren't in the position they were before the elections. There's only so much they can do without control of the House. But Obama should stand firm and make sure that Republicans are identified, first and foremost, with what is deeply unpopular. Axelrod may talk up reality, but reality also means securing political wins even where policy wins may not be possible.

This is still a great issue for Democrats. Which means we can count on them to fuck it up. (And fucking it up they are.)

And you should forgive us if we don't entirely trust anything that comes out of the White House. While I hope that Axelrod is serious, the caving is already well underway.


By the way, Senate Minority Leader (and hyper-partisan Republican) Mitch McConnell said yesterday that he was "willing to listen to what the President has in mind for protecting Americans from tax increases," that is, that he might be open to compromise on the Bush tax cuts (including possibly only a temporary extension for the tax cuts for the wealthy). 

Don't believe a thing he says. For Republicans, compromise is not on the table.

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