Friday, September 24, 2010

Inexplicable--That's What You Are

The apparent decision by the House of Representatives not to call a vote on the extension of the "middle-class tax cut" is pretty much indefensible. If there were more time until the election, I would say that a groundswell of opinion would cause them to change their minds and have the vote, but there is little time before the session will recess for the final election campaign, so I have little hope for a change of heart.

The House Democratic leadership is saying that they wanted a vote, but have been persuaded not to do so by the Senate's "leadership" punt. I can actually understand--somewhat--why the Senate would not bother to push the issue now; with a couple of Blue Dogs (Lieberman, Nelson of Nebraska) opposing the Democratic program of tax cut extension for the middle class and none for those with annual income over $250,000, and with an apparently united Republican opposition, the proposal would never even make it to the floor: it would be stopped by a filibuster and never get past the procedural votes.

For the House, it's a question of political strategy, then. The arguments about policy, or about economics, or even support for the White House's recommended policy--all of which militate clearly for a tax cut extension for the middle class, perhaps only a temporary one--are largely beside the point, given the low likelihood the Senate will be able to get it through. It's simply a question of whether having a recorded vote for a middle-class tax cut--nothing about the Republican-and-Blue-Dog-backed tax cut extensions for the wealthy need even be mentioned, given the House's rules and Democratic control over them--will help Democratic House members in tough races.

A number of them--Blue Dogs in Republican-leaning districts--put pressure on the leadership not to be put on the spot with this vote. Minority Whip Jim Clyburn was alluding to this when he indicated that a lot of members didn't seem to realize that the proposed cut would actually apply for the wealthy, too (the distinction the Obama White House has been pushing; it's just not a reduction in the marginal rate over $250k in taxable income). Clearly, he wants the vote and thinks it will help them.

The only--and I mean only--justification for the House leadership's decision is uncertainty about what the Republicans in the House might do. Minority Leader John Boehner (the Orange Man, seeking a future House of Orange) has said that he might have to support a middle-class tax cut if that's the only cut on the floor (he then quickly got with the party program, to hold all tax cuts hostage for cuts for the rich), so there is a chance the Republicans would actually vote for the middle-class tax cut, which would deprive the Democrats of exclusive hold on the high ground. Instead, the House Democrats seem to have chosen to hunker down in a besieged fort surrounded by good firing positions.

Thus, the Democrats in the House may be giving up their best chance to have a winning issue for this final, desperate phase of the campaign to keep control, behind a totally incomprehensible rationale.

Inexplicable, indefensible, incomprehensible (and I haven't even pulled out the heavy accusations, like "cowardly", "betrayal", "suicidal")--bad move, House leaders!

In the interests of fuller disclosure, I will say that early in this millennium (roughly 2000-2004), I was in the high tax bracket, and the Bush tax cuts made absolutely no difference in my life. My employer withheld what was needed, and I felt no change when the rate was cut. I say any argument that high income earners will feel pain--expressed as reduced spending--from expiration of the tax cut is bogus. The one exception would be if there is an expectation during the year--say 2011--of a lower tax rate, leading to lower withholding, and then some kind of retroactive increase.

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