Dems sputtering on Bush tax cuts, plus Obama’s dilemma

What should the Democrats and the president do about the Bush tax cuts? Damned if they know.

There is more advice, more carping, and more misdirection online today about what Democrats can do to extricate themselves from the inexplicable trap they find themselves in on the Bush tax cuts — with their position supported by more than two thirds of the public, but the Republicans beating the hell out of them despite just 26 percent support for their “rich guys first” position.

The talk ranges from Halperin snidery to genuine advice. In the snide category, Halrperin writes:

Is it hyperbolic to say the Democratic Party is in the midst of a nervous breakdown? I have been covering national politics since 1988, and I don’t remember a situation quite like this. The signs of a crack-up are everywhere. Democrats still think they can somehow win a news cycle by demonizing John Boehner. Chuck Schumer goes on the Senate floor and suggests Democrats are getting the same political mileage out of “millionaires tax” that Republicans have gotten over the years from using “death tax.” Politico has a story with blind quotes from Hill Democrats who are furious that the White House isn’t using some sort of mythical leverage over Republicans to extract concessions in exchange for extending all the Bush tax cuts — including continuing to try to trade for DADT and the Dream Act (rather than things dealing with jobs). Two members in good standing of the Professional Left — moveon and the PCCC — are spending its members’ money on TV ads demanding that the president exercise this same mythical leverage to stand up to the GOP.

And Halperin earlier slammed the Dems’ messaging without offering a brilliant idea of his own:

…nothing Democrats have done since then has strengthened their hand in the tax/spending wars. Voting to extend tax cuts only for the first $250k in family income and throwing around the words “millionaire” and “billionaire” still makes no sense. Republicans’ mantra about “this is no time to raise taxes on anyone” should be EASILY demolished by the White House and Nancy Pelosi; Democrats should be asking themselves why they haven’t been able to win that rhetorical fight.

Thanks for that.

Meanwhile, Democrats are getting more specific advice from a consulting firm that’s circulating an actual memo around DC:

Standing firm on keeping middle class rates in place while letting those for the wealthy expire “represents a major opportunity for Democrats,” the firm Anzalone Liszt Research writes in a memo dated December 2, 2010. “[T]he party cannot afford to put it off – or let it slip away.”

The messaging recommended by the firm’s principals — John Anzalone and Matt Hogan — is hardly revolutionary material.

“By opposing a permanent extension of the tax cuts on income over $250,000, Democrats can not only put themselves on the side of the overwhelming majority of Americans, but also address two problem areas that plagued the party in the most recent election: their decline in support among Independents and a lack of trust in their commitment to reduce the deficit,” they write.

What stands out, rather, is how late in the game the advice is being offered. Few in the party hold hope that they will stand firm on tax cuts. As the Anzalone Liszt Research memo was being circulated, in fact, negotiators seemed poised to cut a deal offering a two-year extension for rates across the board.

Democrats, indeed, are going into the last week or so of debate fully aware that they are moving against the tide of public opinion. And they are doing it despite the private warnings of their own advisers.

Will they listen to that? Probably not. They’re probably gonna cave, and the White House appears to be crafting a deal to do just that, which at least one sympathetic observer, Benjamin Sarlin, writing at the Daily Beast, thinks might turn out to be a good thing:

But if Democrats cut a deal on a two or three year extension of the upper income tax cuts while making the middle class ones permanent, they could fight the next extension battle on more favorable ground. Currently the Republicans have a fair amount of leverage because the middle class tax cuts the Democrats desperately want to keep will expire as well without Congressional action. As David Leonhardt notes in the New York Times, virtually all economic bad news so far has ended upsliming the White House instead of the Republicans, if only because Obama is so much more visible than any GOP leader. It seems likely a middle class tax hike, even one Democrats unanimously oppose, would end up following the same rules. If they cut a deal making the middle clas tax cuts permanent, however, then the next time around inaction will only kill the unpopular tax breaks for the rich. It’s no coincidence that conservative Republicans like Sen. Jim DeMint and Rep. Mike Pence are holding press conferences to try and scuttle exactly that arrangement.

“That’s one of the reasons why the Republicans don’t want to make only some of the cuts permanent,” budget expert Stan Collender emailed.

It’s possible then that Obama might be more shrewd than Democrats are giving him credit. By far the biggest threat to his re-election is the weak economy (see today’s job numbers) and the White House is reportedly working hard to hammer out a dealthat includes billions of dollars aimed at boosting employment in exchange for caving on the tax cuts. This might be their best bet at both improving the jobs picture, Obama’s 2012 odds, and giving them a chance to attack the tax cuts for the rich from a better position in the near future. Still a tough pill for Democrats to swallow, but perhaps the best they can do.

Indeed, the seemingly intractable unemployment problem has got to be weighing heavily on the White House as they decide what to do, let alone the politics. So they’ll be forgiven if they completely ignore liberal Wonderland stuff like this:

there is a real way to save the Obama presidency: by challenging him in the 2012 presidential primaries with a candidate who would unequivocally commit to a well-defined progressive agenda and contrast it with the Obama administration’s policies. Such a candidacy would be pooh-poohed by the media, but if it gathered enough popular support – as is likely given the level of alienation among many who were the backbone of Obama’s 2008 success – this campaign would pressure Obama toward much more progressive positions and make him a more viable 2012 candidate. Far from weakening his chances for reelection, this kind of progressive primary challenge could save Obama if he moves in the desired direction. And if he holds firm to his current track, he’s a goner anyway.

The basic platform for such a candidate is clear: Unequivocally call for an immediate end to the presence of U.S. troops, advisers and private U.S.-based security firms in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, and replace the “war on terror” with a Global Marshall Plan that roots homeland security in a strategy of generosity and concern for the well-being of everyone on the planet. Domestically, call for a massive jobs program; a freeze on mortgage foreclosures; a national bank that would offer interest-free loans to those seeking to create or expand small businesses; immediate implementation of the parts of the Obama health-care plan that would benefit ordinary citizens and build support for a health plan for all citizens; dramatically lower prices for drugs that treat critical diseases such as AIDS and cancer; a strong tax on carbon emissions; and immediate prosecution of those government employees involved in torture or cover-ups to justify the invasion of Iraq. This candidate should push for the media to provide free and equal time to all major candidates for national office as well as for constitutional amendments requiring only public financing in elections and, separately, for corporations to prove every five years to a jury of ordinary citizens that they have a satisfactory history of environmental responsibility (much like the Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment, or ESRA, advocated by the Network of Spiritual Progressives).

This policy platform must be matched with a willingness to talk unequivocally about the spiritual and ethical need for a new bottom line – one of love, kindness and generosity. We need a progressive push for a new New Deal, which in the 21st century could be the Caring Society: “Caring for Each Other and the Earth.” …

Really? No seriously, really??? And who does the writer, Michael Lerner of Tikkun (who in fairness sounds like probably the best, noblest and nicest person on earth, along with the most political impractical) see as potential dream candidates for the left?

Public officials who would make excellent candidates should they run on this platform include Sens. Russ Feingold, Bernie Sanders, Barbara Mikulski or Al Franken; Reps. Joe Sestak, Maxine Waters, Raul Grijalva, Alan Grayson, Barbara Lee, Dennis Kucinich, Lois Capps, Jim Moran and Lynn Woolsey. Others include Jim McGovern, Marcy Kaptur, Jim McDermott or John Conyers. We should also consider popular figures outside of government. How about Robert F. Kennedy Jr.? Why not Rachel Maddow, Bill Moyers, Susan Sarandon or the Rev. James Forbes?

Um … really???

Back in the real world, you know, the one where Alan Grayson is never going to be president, no matter how awesome I think he is … and Susan Sarandon isn’t either … we’re still left with the question of what the hell Democrats should do, if as expected, they fail to pass the middle class only tax extension tomorrow.

Should they just accept the coming compromise and move on to the next battle?

Does it make sense for the base to be prioritizing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the DREAM Act rather than some form of jobs bill?

Should they just go for those base-boosting bills (DADT and DREAM), plus START, and forgive Obama for breaking his no tax cuts for the rich pledge if he delivers that deal?

Does it make sense to use unemployment extension as a bargaining chip when all logic suggests that with 9.8 percent unemployment and the holidays looming, Republicans will very likely ultimately cave on that issue without Dems having to eat millionaire tax cuts?

So should Senate Dems fight the GOP on the tax cuts til the last dog dies, even at the risk of letting all of the cuts expire???

It’s enough to make your head spin, and to make you question just how incompetent a political party has to be in order to find itself here. And while Congressional Dems are pissed at the White House, they haven’t exactly played this game intelligently either, starting with punting on taking these votes before the election…

David Waldman, who I’ve been quoting a lot here today, has some thoughts on how Senate Dems could get around a filibuster and get through a middle class cut. The result would of course be GOP fury, which they could take out on START or on DADT repeal (which it looks like they’re going to kill anyway) or the DREAM Act (which probably has little chance of passing in any event.)

In other words, the Democrats have very little to bargain with, and they’ve left themselves with almost nowhere to go, but either into the GOP’s dungeon, or into the abyss of total Bush tax cut expiration.

And the base has to decide how it will respond if in the end, the Democrats cave, either on temporary extension, or worse. Saying we’ll just primary the president is the wrong answer, by the way. Any other ideas?

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9 Responses to Dems sputtering on Bush tax cuts, plus Obama’s dilemma

  1. hilda banks says:

    OMG, please help me. I am so outraged that all of these people were there when these tax cuts were voted on. GWB knew exactly what he was doing so I never want to hear anyone say he was dumb and the worst President ever. He has left this country in a sinkhole and he has ridden off into the sunset, appearing on tv shows that he never would have gone on had he been President. Everyone is giving him a pass,laughing it up with his lame jokes and President Obama is having the dogcrap beat out of him because he can’t seem to get anything done according to the media and most of all “fake loyal supporters”. It just makes me sick . I do have the President’s back because I can see so clearly that this is definitely a concerted effort to make sure he is a one term President, no matter what. Say hello,President Sarah”, hello President Sarah.

  2. jreid says:

    I feel your pain, but the president has to figure out a way to give people like you something concrete to follow. I love the guy — worked to get him elected — and I couldn’t tell you right now what his firm position is on tax cuts. He’s a good, decent man, but needs to take firmer stands on issues. And yes, some on the left are completely incoherent and will never be happy no matter what he does.

    Politics is ugly that way.

  3. Robinson says:

    Well, people want to forget that all the mess the president had on his plate before he even enter the white house. Yes, we have not got the full benefits of what he promised in his run for president,but we have gotten a foundation to build upon ( healthcare bill, education, etc.) It seems to me that president Obama is been held to a different standards than any other president we have had. It did not take two years for this country to be in this situation and it will take longer to get back on track. One thing the republicans can do better than the dems is stick by their man. Majority of dems in political office did not go to bat for the president and get our message out!!!! We lost in the midterms because we lost our message and allowed the republicans to shape it for us. Take the healthcare bill for instance, we waited to late to get the good points out about the public options to the people and allowed the republicans to bring up death panels and the anti- abortion anger that cause our party to water down the bill. We can’t blame all this on obama administration, but we have to look at the congress dems,senate dems, and ourseleves who where to call out republicans because of the political anger atmosphere. When we won the white house and had controlled over the house, we got lazy and thought the fight was over.

  4. Robinson says:

    I meant to say who where afarid to call out the republicans because ot political atmosphere.

  5. Pingback: Nate Silver on the Democrats’ bad tax cut poker hand (and How Obama could still pull this off) : The Reid Report

  6. Precious says:


    Clarence B. Jones ( states

    When … public figures of national stature spoke out about Johnson’s escalation of the war in Vietnam, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, at New York City’s Riverside Church, before a meeting of Concerned Layman and Clergy, on April 4th, 1967, said “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” For Dr. King, it was “time to break the silence.”

    And, so it is with Obama’s continued squandering of the extraordinary support he developed for his election as President.

    Go and check out the video clips of the panorama of faces that assembled in Grant Park in Chicago after the election results confirmed his victory. Check out the million + people who came to Washington to witness his Inauguration.

    It is not easy to consider challenging the first African-American to be elected as President of the United States. But, regrettably, I believe that the time has come to do this.

    It is time for Progressives to stop “whining” and arguing among themselves about whether President Obama will or will not do this or that. Obama is no different than any other President, nominated by his national party. He was elected with the hard work and 24/7 commitment of persons who believed and enlisted in his campaign for “Hope” and “Change.”

    You don’t have to be a rocket scientist nor have a PhD in political science and sociology to see clearly that Obama has abandoned much of the base that elected him. He has done this because he no longer respects, fears or believes those persons who elected him have any alternative, but to accept what he does, whether they like it or not.

    It is time for those persons who constituted the “Movement” that enabled Senator Barack Obama to be elected to “break their silence”; to indicate that they no longer will sit on their hands, and only let off verbal steam and ineffective sound and fury, and “hope” for the best.

    The answer is blowin’ in the wind

    The pursuit of the war in Afghanistan in support of a certifiably corrupt Afghan government and the apparent willingness to retreat from his campaign commitment of no further tax cuts for the rich, his equivocal and foot dragging leadership to end DADT, his TARP for Wall Street, but, equivocal insufficient attention to the unemployment and housing foreclosures of Main Street, suggest that the template of the 1968 challenge to the reelection of President Lyndon Johnson now must be thoughtfully considered for Obama in 2012.

  7. Rupert says:

    I don’t think there is a Bobby Kennedy out there.

  8. Flo says:

    In 1968 the Democrats ended up losing (to the infamous Richard Nixon); and when they challenged Jimmy Carter in 1980, the Democrats lost again. So how is this supposed to work for the better, Precious?

  9. Rupert says:

    She covered that, Flo; she said the answer is blowin’ in the wind.
    Bob Dylan is going to run…..

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