Now, I am a relative newcomer to the Kos community (I've been here for a few years now, but I only began writing diaries relatively recently), so I will briefly introduce my political thoughts as being somewhere in the ball-park of the principled progressives that Robert Gibbs, on behalf of the Obama administration, snickeringly and derisively wrote off as "the professional left." In terms of policy, I err on the side of using the best available empirical information and academic research to craft policies that maximize public equity (in terms of both political and economic position), public quality of life, social welfare, and the mitigation of poverty. In terms of politics, I am of the philosophy that if the progressive case is not clearly and emphatically stated and defended, progressives functionally cede the public framing of issues to conservatives and handicap themselves in campaigns for political office. We can see this clearly in the rise of the Third Way Democrats, pragmatic, centrist Democrats being referred to as liberals in popular discourse, the blurring of the lines between the parties (here's looking at you, Blue Dogs), and the rightward shift in not just the framing of issues but the social problems chosen as deserving of widespread attention and focus being defined as "the issues."
All of this I say to give background to those who don't know me (most of you) a more clear understanding of where I am coming from in my brief analysis of the Biden-McConnell deal. Was it a good deal? No. Not even remotely. As with any deal put together at the last minute under media alarm-sounding and sensationalist exaggeration, the deal was just plain bad and Democrats ceded too much unnecessarily. I know the counter-arguments and spin. I've read them all. "We got UI. We got bipartisanshipiness. We didn't give up any cuts." Here's what those arguments always leave out: what would our position look like on the other side of the "curb?"
Here's our negotiating position post-curb, without the deal:
We have all the revenue we want. Sure the timing of the lower- and middle-class tax hikes could have come at a better time in terms of economic recovery, but we could have dealt with them post-curb. The central, existential tenet for the modern Republican party is that taxes hurt the economy, government hurts the economy, and any cut in either helps the economy. Post-curb, Democrats could have forced Republicans, the party whose entire argument for existing is to lower taxes, to take a public stand against cutting taxes for the lower- and middle-class simply because income above $250,000/yr is being taxed at Clinton-era rates. Faced with that, do you really think we wouldn't secure those tax cuts while keeping the campaign pledge to increase the rate on income above $250,000? Sorry, but even Republicans are smart enough to see that they couldn't spin a vote against tax cuts for the majority of America on behalf of the 2%. Indeed, had a real progressive been negotiating, a reinstatement of the "Making Work Pay" tax cut would have been demanded to offset the increase in the payroll tax for the lower- and middle-class.
The spending dynamic wouldn't change much. Although the discretionary cuts would already have the force of law, the cuts were likely the best Democrats could hope for anyway. Indeed, an unemployment insurance extension could have been negotiated in return for some delays or reductions in the sequestration of military spending. We could then make it over the hump of the debt-ceiling hostage taking and shift the frame of the discussion to job creation and economic recovery (think stimulus). While we wouldn't win all of the domestic spending back from sequestration, we could offer up stimulus measures to make Republicans vote against helpful, popular stimulus measures before the mid-terms that would make clear contrast between the parties and their agendas. We could also offer separate measures to end or delay the sequestration on discretionary spending for domestic and military spending, forcing a clear vote on the specific domestic programs that have been cut, who it will affect, and who wants them cut. Having a debate over cuts that have happened being bad reminds the populace of the benefits they receive from public expenditures and domestic government programs. Instead, we will be having a debate in a few months about cutting spending, a more generalized notion that frames the debate against progressives.
Instead of making it quickly over the hump and refocusing on job creation and economic stimulus to draw the contrast into 2014, we are going later into 2013 arguing about debts and deficits while people are still struggling to get by, the economy still structurally works against labor and middle-class interests, and inequality continues to grow, aided and abetted by tax and economic policies.
I hope this accurately and effectively articulates the political strategy and critiques of most progressives who are unhappy with this deal.
The Bright Side
One good thing to take away from this that I haven't seen mentioned much is the symbolic lens through which this all played out and how this can be extremely helpful for Democrats towards taking back the House in 2014 to close the Obama era with a bang. While the fiscal "cliff" media sensationalism was ridiculous, unfounded, misleading, and downright stupid, it effectively held the nation's political attention on what otherwise may have been an unwatched, backdoor negotiation. What we had, very publicly, loudly, and with the nation's attention, was a public display of House Republican intransigence against even an unacceptable, mild alternative marketed by their own Speaker as "Plan B." Republican leaders couldn't even bring the limited tax hike on income over $1,000,000 included in "Plan B" to the floor for a vote after publicly promoting it because their own members rejected it.
Instead, Boehner and the Republicans left town for the holidays, and Boehner said this:
The House did not take up the tax measure today because it did not have sufficient support from our members to pass. Now it is up to the president to work with Reid on legislation to avert the fiscal cliff.(source)
Take a step back and think about the optics of this. Eric Cantor, the number two House Republican, vows to keep the House in session until a deal is reached. A week later, after failing to pass their own leadership's plan, House Republicans go on vacation, and their leader tells the public, "We need the Democrats to step in and lead us out of this." While I am full of disappointment about the deal itself and think Democrats misplayed a great hand, I think the way this played out in the public eye will help us in the (gerrymandered) uphill battle to take back the House in 2014. Just my thoughts.