The legislative compromise proposed by President Barack Obama Monday — where an extension of the Bush tax cuts would be granted along with a 13-month reauthorization to the unemployment benefits extension — may not be in much jeopardy from a Republican Party all too willing to pass a Bush tax cuts extension they’ve been demanding for two months. Instead, the president’s proposal (negotiated for the most part by Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) could be jeopardized by a filibuster of the bill in the Senate through his own Democratic Party. And even if it makes it through the Senate, where McConnell has predicted little Republican opposition to the measure as it stands, the bill would still have to get through the House of Representatives, where the New York Times is reporting widespread Democratic dissatisfaction.
“I don’t think the president should count on Democratic votes to get this deal passed,” Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) stated after a caucus meeting of House Democrats.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) refused to endorse the Obama compromise, instead commenting that there was “unease” among the Democratic caucus.
That unease is generated for the most part by the suggested extension of the Bush tax cuts for another two years, something Republicans have made a point of contention of in their intransigence on supporting tax cuts for everyone, including the nation’s most wealthy income earners. Most Democrats want the Bush tax cuts that benefit those income earners (individuals and families) making $250,000 or less to continue. Those making more would see their income taxes revert to the pre-2001 tax levels that were in place before the tax breaks kicked in.
Republicans have for the most part refused to budge on the issue, especially in the U. S. Senate. Their refusal became official when all 42 Senate Republicans signed a “pledge” to not even consider any legislation in the lame duck session of Congress (the 112th Congress convenes in January) until the Bush tax cuts matter was resolved. No other business for passage has been considered in the Senate since the “pledge” and a much-needed unemployment benefits extension affecting millions of jobless workers has been blocked twice.
Of course, the proposed unemployment extension had the added problem of being without offset (unpaid for), which has been a sticking point for most fiscal conservatives (mostly Republicans).
As many political analysts and politicians predicted over the past several weeks, it looked as if the only way both Democrats and Republicans would get what they wanted would be through some sort of compromise. If Democrats wanted unemployment benefits extensions, they would either find a way to pay for them or they would have to find a way to give Republicans something they truly wanted in return.
Unemployment benefits extensions were what Democrats wanted.
Bush tax cuts, including those extended to the wealthiest, were what Republicans wanted.
The agreed-upon compromise comes in the form a “framework” that President Obama presented to the nation Monday. In it (the gist of which can be perused at OpenCongress.org), not only are all the Bush tax cuts included and extended, the estate tax was extended and revamped. Business tax write-offs and individual tax credits were added. A 2 percent Social Security “tax holiday” was injected for those making less than $107,000.
But it is only a framework, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) was quick to point out. “This is only a framework,” Reid said. “It’s up to the Congress to pass it. Some in my caucus still have concerns.”
And many of the Democrats believe the leader of their party caved on an issue where Democrats believed they held a stronger position. The compromise measure is unpaid for and comes with a price tag of at least $900 billion over the next two years. Conservative Democrats are furious about the increase in national debt. Liberal Democrats are furious that the the compromise included extending tax cuts to the nation’s wealthiest, not to mention those that need it least. And many Democrats felt that they held the high moral ground on the issues — reauthorization of unemployment benefits extensions (regardless of cost) and giving the lowest income earners more or their money to put back into a flagging economy, not to mention taking the extra income from the reapplied taxes to the wealthiest (which would begin in the new year) to pay for federal programs and forestall increasing the national debt (which extending all of the Bush tax cuts for two years increases by $458 billion).
“I don’t think it’s a fair deal,” Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) said. “I think a ransom was paid, and it was a very high price.”
Most opposition seems to come from the extension of the Bush tax cuts to the wealthy (which make up only 2-3 percent of the income earning population) and the extension of the estate tax. Many Democrats believe that they are unnecessary and are only contributing to the national debt. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), who was one of only a few Democrats who originally voted for the 2001 Bush tax cuts, said that continuing tax cuts for the wealthy was “nonsensicalness.”
Even President Obama couched the compromise in terms of a grudging acquiescence in an unfavorable position.
“I’ve said before that I felt that the middle-class tax cuts were being held hostage to the high-end tax cuts,” the President said. “I think it’s tempting not to negotiate with hostage-takers, unless the hostage gets harmed. Then people will question the wisdom of that strategy. In this case, the hostage was the American people, and I was not willing to see them get harmed.”
In the end, however, after all the posturing and rhetoric has been put on display, the measure will no doubt see passage. Both parties know that to not vote for the unemployment benefits extensions would be a very unpopular move. They also know that to allow the deadline for the Bush tax cuts for everyone would be another extremely unpopular move. And since every politician’s basic instinct is to perpetuate his/her tenure in office, there will be compromise.
Perhaps. But, ironically, the possibility exists that Democrats, who have long lambasted Republicans for their unwillingness to compromise, could thwart the proposed efforts to find a little common ground, pushing the Bush tax cuts beyond the deadline and watching the long-term unemployed continue without assistance into the coldest months of the year.
Holding degrees in History and Secondary Education, Saul Relative taught school in West Virginia in the ’80s and Virginia during the ’90s. A student of politics and political movements, he began writing articles covering the political maneuverings of the Bush administration in 2004. Saul turned to writing full-time in 2008, dividing his time between reading and writing about politics and entertainment.