What's the Point of Pelosi's 'Wily' Middle-Class Tax Cuts?

Harry Reid forces a vote on two tax proposals that have zero chance of passing

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House Democrats passed legislation extending the Bush tax cuts only for the middle class, allowing those for families making more than $250,000 to expire, using "a wily procedural maneuver to tie Republican hands," Talking Points Memo's Brian Beutler reports. But now a deal on the cuts has died in the Senate, and the future of Democrats' favored tax plan looks grim.

Majority Leader Harry Reid had forged a  "tentative agreement" to hold four votes in the Senate on Democratic plans and two Republican ones. But that required the unanimous consent of the entire Senate, so because one Republican senator has objected, Reid instead will force a vote on only the two Democratic plans (cuts for those making less than $250,000, and for those making less than $1,000,000) on Saturday. Neither has any real hope of passing.

Both plans "were merely symbolic gestures, meant to put Republicans on notice that their tax cut mania will become a political issue during this election cycle, and to signal displeasure to the White House over its brewing tax cut compromise with Republicans," Beutler reports. "Those negotiations are centered on a temporarily exchange all of the Bush tax cuts in exchange for an extension of unemployment insurance, and, potentially, the tax cuts in the stimulus bill."

  • How Pelosi Pulled It Off, Michael Tomasky writes at The Guardian. This was a great victory for the outgoing House speaker, Tomasky writes. "Usually, when the majority clears a bill for final passage in the House, there's something called a motion to recommit, which is the minority's chance to tack stuff onto the bill at the last minute to try to pry votes away. Republicans are expert at using the motion to recommit in really skeazoid ways. For example, there will be a Democratic bill that will increase spending in some way that Republicans don't like. They'll introduce a motion to recommit to attach language to bill calling for, say, all multiple murderers to be released from prison immediately. That way, if a Democrat votes for the spending, s/he is also voting to free murderers. I exaggerate, but you get the picture. ... There's a way for the majority to avoid a mtr, which is to pass a bill under 'suspension of the rules' - but that requires a two-thirds majority. And that was impossible here for Pelosi. And yet, the D's managed to bring this us today under a sneaky third way," by attaching the measure as an amendment to an air transportation bill that had already passed. "Dirty pool? Maybe. The kind of thing either side would do in the majority, as we will soon see."
  • A Silver Lining, Daniel Foster argues at the National Review, is that "the procedural vote to allow this bit of chicanery was very close (213-203), with at least 28 Democrats voting against. And Pelosi has scheduled a number of insignificant but time-wasting votes before the tax hike is actually taken up later this afternoon, suggesting that Democratic leadership need that time to whip, whip, whip."
  • Now It's the Senate's Turn, The Washington Post's Ezra Klein writes. "When Mitch McConnell demanded that Senate Democrats bring the Bush tax cuts for a vote before moving onto other business, I don't think this is what he meant." While the House passed middle-class tax cuts, the "cuts for income over $250,000 never saw a vote. Now the Senate is moving to do much the same thing, though it'll vote on two different proposals: First, the tax cuts for income under $250,000, and then the Schumer compromise extending the breaks for all income under $1,000,000. Of course, Hill staffers have been perfectly clear that they're viewing these as messaging votes. The bipartisan talks led by Jack Lew and Tim Geithner are ongoing, and there's talk of a deal in which all the tax cuts would be temporarily extended and so too would $150 billion of further tax breaks and stimulus measures (notably an extension of both unemployment insurance and Obama's Making Work Pay tax credit). So the tax cuts being passed this week don't mark the end of this process. They mark the beginning of the end."
  • GOP Says Dems Are Just Wasting Time, ABC News' Matt Jaffe and Huma Khan report. "No sooner had the upcoming flurry of Senate votes been announced by Democrats than Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, accused them of 'pandering to their political base' with 'pointless' votes that are 'charades.' 'With only 28 days until middle-class families, job creators and investors are hit with massive job-killing tax hikes, Senate Democrats are scheduling pointless tax votes that have no chance of becoming law,' Hatch said."
  • How Did Dems Screw The Tax Issue Up So Badly? John Cole wonders at Balloon Juice. Citing a CBS poll showing 53 percent of Americans want the tax cuts for the rich to expire, Cole writes, "My drill sergeant was fond of telling privates that they could 'fuck up a wet dream.' I think that is an apt description of the Democrats handling of the tax issue, unless, like me, you’re slowly coming to the ralization that they are equal parts incompetent and equal parts slaves to the money party."
  • Bitter Pill for Lefties, The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin writes. Democrats are saying they've cornered Republicans on tax cuts, but "I think it's the Democrats that have been boxed in. And at least some of them must realize that they have witnessed the political and intellectual collapse of the tax-the-rich philosophy that has guided their party for decades. That's no small thing. What comes to mind -- though, it's far afield -- is the Supreme Court's Heller decision, which found that the Second Amendment contains an individual right to bear arms. This was considered crazy talk by the left for decades. Now it's the law of the land, recently extended to apply to the states. What was considered by the left to be right-wing extremism (e.g. the Second Amendment secures individual rights, hiking taxes on the rich is anti-growth) is now, or about to become, the consensus position."
  • We're Missing the Point, Economist Mom writes. She wishes "that policymakers could consider doing at least the 'non-crazy' thing with the Bush tax cuts and stop proposing that any of them be permanently extended.  Instead of frantically trying to 'decouple' the high-end Bush tax cuts from the 'middle-class' ones, we should be thinking about the best way to eventually 'decouple' ourselves from all of them."
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