Accept Our Compromise, Now, Or Die
Not even 24 hours after President Obama met with senior Republican Congressional leaders and expressed hopes for a “new dialogue,” renewed partisan fury engulfed the Senate on Wednesday, as Republicans threatened to block any legislation until a deal is reached to extend the expiring Bush-era tax cuts, potentially derailing the Democrats’ busy end-of-year agenda.
Unfortunately, the effects of the Grand Old Party of No’s threat to bring all legislative business in Congress to a halt unless Democrats agree to extend all of former Pres. Bush’s 2001 and 2003 tax cuts are not at all metaphorical:
The Republican maneuver came just as Senate Democrats seemed within reach of the votes needed to authorize repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gay service members. The Republican blockade stalls debate on the military policy bill containing the repeal language, and it casts a long shadow over numerous bills awaiting action in Congress, including efforts to extend jobless benefits for millions of Americans about to lose them.
It also complicates the chances of ratification of the New Start arms treaty with Russia that is a major priority for the White House, and it could prevent Mr. Reid from fulfilling a major promise of his re-election campaign, to try again to pass a bill that would create a path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children.
Ezra Klein sees Pres. Obama making the same key mistake with Republicans now that he did when he was trying to get the stimulus package passed — giving up too much at the front end:
On page 116 of “The Promise,” Jonathan Alter describes President Obama’s approach to the stimulus as “bad poker.” “Instead of holding his cards close, and then sweetening the pot for Republicans with tax cuts in the final negotiations, [Obama] offered nearly $300 billion in tax cuts at the front-end of the process. … It was a big bargaining chip left off the table.”
Obama has since admitted as much. “It might have been better for us not to include tax cuts in the original package, let the Republicans insist on the tax cuts, and then say, O.K., you know, we’ll compromise and give you your tax cuts,” he told Peter Baker. So why does he keep including the tax cuts?
Annoyed congressional staffers and baffled strategists rattle the list of concessions the White House has unilaterally made to Republicans from memory. There were the $300 billion in tax cuts, of course. The non-security discretionary spending freeze, a longtime Republican demand that the Obama administration simply announced during the 2010 State of the Union (Republicans responded by demanding discretionary spending cuts back to 2008 levels). During the climate-change debate, the administration gave away an expansion of offshore drilling, loan guarantees for nuclear power plants and delay of EPA regulations until 2011 — all Republican demands that Lindsey Graham, John Kerry and Joe Lieberman were hoping to trade for GOP support. “Obama had served the dessert before the children even promised to eat their spinach,” reported Ryan Lizza. “Graham was the only Republican negotiating on the climate bill, and now he had virtually nothing left to take to his Republican colleagues.” And most recently, there’s the two-year freeze in federal pay.
Now, though, House Democrats have come up with a tactic that may be able to overcome Republican intransigence — and John Boehner’s reaction to that tactic may be the strongest evidence that it’s workable:
This afternoon, House Democrats will hold an up or down vote on vote on President Obama’s plan to extend tax cuts to income below $250,000, and they’ve figured out a way to prevent the Republicans from pulling procedural tricks that might sink it — a straight vote on whether or not wealthy people deserve an additional tax break. Today, at his weekly press conference, House Minority Leader John Boehner compared the move to fertilizer.
“I’m trying to catch my breath so I don’t refer to this maneuver going on today as chickencrap, alright?’ Boehner said. “But this is nonsense.”
Brace yourself for some procedural jargon: Dems once believed they were faced with two mixed options for holding this vote. The first was to hold an up-or-down vote under the normal rules. But that would give Republicans the opportunity to introduce what’s known as a motion to recommit — a procedural right of the minority that would have allowed them to tack an extension of tax cuts for high-income earners on to the legislation.
The second option — suspending the rules — would have foreclosed on that right, but would have required a two-thirds majority of the House for passage: 290 votes, an impossible hurdle.
But Democrats figured out a way to avoid this. They’re attaching their tax cut plan as an amendment to a separate bill [the Airport and Airway Extension Act, to wit]. That legislation already passed the House, and has just been returned from the Senate. The rules say it can’t be recommitted. So the GOP’s hands are tied.
Republicans don’t like it when Democrats play hardball. To be fair, they’re not used to it.