I had to bite back a chuckle when I read the comments from Jim Kessler, head of the Third Way (basically the DLC resurrected), on the tax cuts for the wealthy. Those aren't the comments you would expect from The Third Way:
"The president should have stood firm on the expiration of the tax cuts on upper-income earners," said Jim Kessler, vice president for policy at Third Way, a centrist think tank. "First, I don’t think it is good for our economy right now. There are better uses for the money in the short term. ... Second, we can’t afford it. It just means tax increases for future generations. And third, I think the president had the upper hand."
On this point, Kessler found a rare point of agreement with Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which has been a frequent critic of Third Way's centrist politics. "The winning blueprint of the White House these two years is to pick smart fights where the American people are overwhelmingly on their side and force Republicans to fight hard," Green said. "The tax-cut fight would be a perfect place to start."
See? The Third Way organization, representing "centrists," and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, representing progressives, finally found something to agree on. They both think the White House not letting the tax cuts for the wealthy expire is a mistake. Here's more from the story:
To progressives, and even some moderate Democrats in Congress, a temporary extension across-the-board would be a defeat. Renewing all of the tax cuts in tandem – without trying to separate the middle-class breaks – means that Congress would debate the issue again, likely in 2012, thrusting it into the presidential race when the stakes are higher.
"That would represent a complete cave," said a senior Senate Democratic aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly about party strategy. "It has been a cardinal truism among Democrats for 10 years that this policy was folly. That is a narrative we told for years and all of sudden we’re going to go back on that and punt on this? That would be dispiriting." Drew Westen, a psychologist and political consultant who has worked with Democrats on messaging, said a move to accept even a temporary extension on the high-end earners was "politically inexplicable and inexcusably bad public policy."
TalkingPointsMemo has a good run-down of how we found ourselves in this bit of a pickle:
Let's go back to the beginning. The Bush tax cuts will expire at the end of the year. GOP leaders want to extend all of them permanently, or at least for as long as possible. The White House's plan was to permanently extend the tax cuts for a family's first $250,000 of income ($200,000 for individuals), but to let taxes on income above that level revert to Clinton-era rates.
To bridge that impasse, the White House signaled a willingness to deal with the two income categories separately: permanently extend the tax rates for the middle-income brackets, and temporarily extend them for household income above $250,000 (or individual income over $200,000).
The GOP smelled danger, though, and balked. If the top rates are extended temporarily, and "decoupled" from the middle income rates, then Republicans have to fight, a year or two down the line, for tax cuts for the rich alone. So Republican leaders drew a line, and said they'd accept no compromise that didn't extend all rates for the same amount of time. This is where the White House has apparently decided to cry uncle.
Is anyone even remotely aware that we have a lame duck session in which these tax cuts can be "decoupled" and passed separately to present a difficult vote for Republicans? If the concern is that the votes wouldn't be there from the Blue Dog Democrats, does anyone really think that they'd vote against the tax cuts for the middle class? It's time for them to put up or shut up.
One other option is that we could let all the tax cuts expire, and then reintroduce a bill in the Senate that would have the Obama tax cuts for the middle class.
I don't get why Democrats in D.C. are acting like the Republicans are in charge right now, given that we still have until the end of December before the new Congress starts. Perhaps Democrats in D.C. should be reminded of that fact they're still in charge.