Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Asking The Right Questions

Both Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow ripped into the President last night on their respective shows.  Olbermann was brutal:

To paraphrase Churchill, again, let me begin by saying the most unpopular and most unwelcome thing: "that we have sustained a defeat without a war, the consequences of which will travel far with us along our road. We should know that we have passed an awful milestone in our history, when the whole equilibrium of American politics and policy have been deranged, and that the terrible words have, for the time being, been pronounced against this Administration: "thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting." 

And even the reserved Rachel was grabbing for the nearest towel to throw.

Either the president of the United States matters or he doesn't. And if the president cannot win when his party is the majority in Congress, if no one can even conceive of the president winning fights when his party is in the majority, let alone the minority in Washington, then the presidency itself starts to atrophy. It starts to disappear.

But neither one of them was asking the right question.  Steve Benen on the other hand nailed the real issue (the one I brought up yesterday).  What's Plan B when this deal falls through?

What's Plan B?

I don't mean this to sound snarky and this isn't a rhetorical question; I'm genuinely interested in understanding the back-up strategy. When I posed this question yesterday to some Capitol Hill aides I know, they said they'd recommit to fighting even harder for the original Obama tax plan -- permanent breaks for those under $250k, Clinton-era top rates for those above $250k. If/when this week's compromise goes down, Republicans, they said, would likely cave and accept the Democratic approach. They'd be out of options -- it'd be a choice between the Dem plan and higher taxes for everyone. Dems would regain the leverage they lost before the midterms.

And that could work. The plan came seven votes shy of 60 the other day, but when push comes to shove, maybe those seven additional votes would come together, and Dems would win this fight over taxes.

But what then? How would extended unemployment benefits pass for the millions of jobless Americans who need them? What happens to the economic stimulus? What's the strategy for getting quick approval for an expanded earned-income tax credit and the continuation of a college-tuition tax credit? With almost no time left on the clock, after winning the fight on tax policy, is the plan to simply punt on New START ratification, DADT repeal, the DREAM Act, food safety, and health care for Ground Zero workers, hoping for the best in the next Congress?

I understand very well what opponents on the left want to do to the tax deal, and why. I'm less clear on what happens next.

That's what we should asking ourselves right now.  What's Plan B?  Because as I have been saying for days now, Plan A will never end up on the President's desk.  I don't want this plan to pass because I think it's a great plan.  I want it to pass because the alternatives are much worse in a number of ways.  Right now I don't see this having the votes to get through, and that's a shame.

Because there is no real Plan B right now.  Maybe Rachel and Keith should be asking that question instead.  I expect Olbermann to deliver a broadside, but Maddow should know better and start exploring the realities of what happens when this deal dies screaming.

To his credit, David Dayen does have an answer to the question.

So the choices are: a deal that extends Bush tax cuts and a lower estate tax than even Bush envisioned, basically forever, with a canceled-out stimulus in the exchange; or no Bush tax cuts, and no stimulus. In the alternative scenario, do Republicans still call for spending cuts? Probably. But the public finances look better in that scenario, and their energy would probably be dedicated to getting those tax cuts back instead. Republicans have signaled enough weakness on unemployment benefits that a short-term extension can probably get wriggled out. And crucially, you’d have a future tax base which can actually sustain a robust functioning government.

So you have to ask yourself is this the best possible deal for the future? Because there’s no question this is a deal for 2012. But endless low tax rates, on income and estates, basically ends progressive governance in America.

Is it the best possible deal?  No.  Dayen is 100% correct there.  He also has a very good point that by sacrificing the idea that any taxes can ever be raised that social spending is in dire peril and will be slashed in the future...but how does Obama get a better deal?

Nobody seems to have an answer to that.  My partial answer is that it has to begin with filibuster reform for the long term, and that we should take this deal in the short.  Will either happen?

I don't know.


jeannette said...

obama gets a better deal by going on a full court press in which he levels with america. that he and his team underestimated the length and breadth of the economic devastation caused by greed, fraud and war. his stimulus package was too small and wasted too much money on non-stimulative tax cuts. and right now we need to pump money into the system by extending UI benefits with a fix for 99ers, giving federal relief to state gov'ts, and starting an american infrastructure works program. or else we are headed for a jobless, non-recovery wasted decade or more. basically, we fail. and how do we pay for this? well luckily the bush tax cuts are expiring. are you a patriot? will you pay a little more and rich people pay a lot more to rebuild america?
he gets a better deal by making the case for a better deal. he shames the republicans loudly and forcefully for standing in the way of recovery. our president can be pretty persuasive and i think americans are ready to hear it. he wins by loudly and relentlessly making the case. or, we could just keep giving tax cuts to everyone we can think of, continue with the happy talk/green shoots nonsense and hope for the best. it's a pity that that's his preferred plan.

Zandar said...

Not disagreeing with you.

But you think the Republicans will respond to logic and shame, and give a good god damn about what any American worth less than a million dollars thinks?

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