On Obama’s Tax Cut Capitulation

Yesterday, President Obama and the Congressional Republican leadership agreed on a two year extension of the Bush-era tax cuts. It’s not entirely a done deal — Bernie Sanders, Senator from Vermont, has threatened a filibuster, and the deal still has to be sold to wary Democratic legislators, some of whom were willing to take Paul Krugman’s advice and let the Bush tax cuts expire, then deal with the issue with a blank slate in the new Congress.

I’ll be honest. I’m with Chuck Schumer and Bernie Sanders — as I’ve consistently said for over a year now, letting the Bush tax cuts expire is the right move. Keeping the unsustainable tax rates in place kicks the can — the day of reckoning — down the street. Look at what’s happening to Ireland right now. That’s us. Putting our own house in order should be some sort of priority. OUr tax rates, no matter how much the tea partiers who scream “We’re taxed enough already!” claim, are at their lowest level in sixty years,” only we now expect more from our government, like Medicare and student loans, than we did sixty years ago.

Yes, I’ve read some rational justifications for the tax cut package that Obama and the Republicans worked out yesterday. The Washington Post‘s Ezra Klein makes the case that the package is not only stimulative to the economy but also shows that Obama and the Republicans can work together and compromise, which is a hopeful sign for the next two years of divided government. The problem with Klein’s conclusion is that I’m having a very difficult time seeing what the Republicans gave up; they got an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts until 2012, and they got things they didn’t ask for, like an estate tax cut and a Social Security tax cut. (Bruce Bartlett explains why a payroll tax cut, even a so-called temporary one, is a really bad idea.

No, my feeling on this tax cut package, and yes, it’s influenced by my feeling on the Bush tax cuts in general — that they were a giveaway to the rich, that they increased economic inequality, that they were budget busters to no good end, that they were ultimately destructive to the American economy and way of life — is much closer to Cenk Uygar’s:

Though, perhaps, not as animated. ;)

The Democrats had a winning issue. Polls showed that the majority of the American people didn’t want the Bush tax cuts extended for all income groups. Democrats could have held votes on the tax cuts before the midterm elections, to draw a brightline between themselves and the Republicans. They didn’t, for whatever reason. Klein thinks that these tax cuts will be a winning issue for Democrats in the 2012 election, but it’s difficult to really believe that, not when the Democratic leadership — and yes, that includes the man in the bully pulpit himself, Barack Obama — bungled the issue this time around.

And maybe that’s the problem. The bully pulpit. Barack Obama hasn’t effectively filled it. He hasn’t effectively made a case to the American people for any of his signature policies. Polls showed that Americans wanted health care reform. Polls show that Americans actually like the individual planks of the health care reform bill that was passed earlier in the year. But Obama didn’t really go out and fight for it. The leadership from the bully pulpit wasn’t there. As Jon Stewart said a few months ago, Obama campaigned like a visionary, but he governs like a functionary. He spends too much time blurring lines, not drawing them.

I’m not happy about this tax cut package. Nor am I anxious for the next two years, if Obama’s idea of compromise with the Republicans is capitulation.

ETA: To elaborate on some pre-coffee fuzzy thoughts from this morning’s post…

A few months ago, President Obama’s spokesman Robert Gibbs complained about “the professional left” and how nothing Obama did ever satisfied them.

I’ve often heard it said that “politics is the art of the possible,” something Otto von Bismark, who knew a thing or two about politics, knew all too well. But you don’t know what’s possible unless you try.

That, in a nutshell, is the problem. The perception of Obama that Gibbs’ “professional left” has is that Obama doesn’t try. And it’s not an unfair perception.

Quiet, calm leadership is fine. In these troubled and deeply partisan time, it’s actually welcome.

But when positions forcefully articulated are quietly and meekly cast aside — the public option in health care reform, no extension of the Bush tax cuts for those earning over 250k — it’s no wonder there’s disillusionment from Obama’s base on the left.

He’s not even making a show of trying.

This tax cut deal wasn’t a surrender. It was a capitulation; Obama gave up more than the Republicans ever said they wanted, with his only real gain a 13-month unemployment funding extension (but no additional tiers), and the stimulative effect that’s been touted is likely to be chimerical.

Why shouldn’t the “professional left” be appalled? Why should the “professional left” continue to support Obama? If Obama is so unwilling to take a stand on his own positions, to show some fight for what he believes in, why should any American think that he will ever stand up for them?

Ezra Klein think that Obama lost this battle to win the war in 2012. I can’t see this as anything but a disaster on the political battlefield. The Republican narrative, that Obama is a weak president, is only strengthened and entrenched by yesterday’s event. In other words, Obama has made the Republican case for 2012 that much stronger, and he’s increased the odds that he will be a one-term president.

This is why, despite reasoned and reasonable justificiation, Obama’s tax cut capitulation rankles me so.

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