A Short-Term Win For Democrats, A Long-Term Loss For Democrats?

We’re making permanent tax policies Republicans originally crafted.”

—Dave Camp, the Republican chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives

Republicans, at least those not completely ravaged by ideological stupidity, have finally been willing to embrace their substantial victory over Democrats, a victory represented by the last-minute deal to make the once-infamous Bush tax cuts permanent.

Early on New Year’s Day, Senate Republicans saw the light and accepted a Biden-engineered but Obama-blessed “compromise,” and later on New Year’s Day House Republicans—those 85 or so who for one reason or another realized they have won the tax debate—did the same.

All the while, most Senate and House Democrats couldn’t wait to get in line to vote to accept the deal (only 3 voted “no” in the Senate and only 16 voted “no” in the House), which, among other things, makes the Bush tax cuts, I’ll say it again, permanent.

Perhaps we should stop here and get Merriam-Webster‘s definition of the word permanent:

continuing or enduring without fundamental or marked change.

That’s a lot of what happened on New Year’s Day.

I watched Grover Norquist, yes, Grover Bleeping Norquist, right in front of CNN, GOP Jesus, and everyone, bless his fellow Republicans as they were about to vote to do what conservatives a decade ago only dreamed of doing: making the Bush tax rate cuts permanent for 99.3% of taxpayers.*

Did you get that? Conservatives in 2001 and 2003 couldn’t even pull that off. When right-wingers passed the original Bush tax cuts, they were only for ten years. Obama extended them for two years just before they were due to expire at the end of 2010—under Republican threats to ruin the economic recovery—and now they have been made a part of the Democratic Party canon. Bragging rights for tax cuts now belong to Democrats, which they may eventually regret.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’m not opposed to extending the tax cuts for most Americans. We can’t afford to jeopardize the fragile economic recovery by removing almost $200 billion a year—that’s roughly the cost of extending the cuts for the 99.3%—from the mix.

But we also can’t afford to extend the full rate cuts for that entire 99.3% permanently—at a cost of $1.9 trillion over 10 years—as doing so will serve to support the “starve the beast” tactic that radical conservatives like Grover Norquist have employed as part of their strategy to turn the country into a 19th-century small-government, rich-man’s paradise.

As I see it, Democrats may have inadvertently aided the Norquistas in their quest to some day drown government, at least part of it, in Grover’s bathtub.

There are, of course, many good things in the package passed, including a five-year extension of the 2009 stimulus expansion of tax credits for the working poor and other tax credits for the needy, including families trying to get their kids in college.

Those on long-term unemployment will get an extension for another year; doctors who accept Medicare won’t get screwed in the next year; tax breaks for wind energy and corporate research are continuing for at least another year; the Alternative Minimum Tax will be permanently indexed to inflation; the Republican-stalled farm bill will get unstalled for nine months—enjoy your cheaper milk.

Most of what Democrats got they got without having to offer significant spending cuts, which would have hurt the economic recovery. All good.

But besides the permanence of the Bush tax cuts, there are other bad things in the deal. The estate tax, which beginning on January 1 returned to Clinton-era rates (estates valued at $1 million were exempted and estate transfers over that amount were taxed at 55%), is now permanently Republican-friendly: a $5 million ($10 million for a couple) estate exemption (indexed to inflation) and a top tax rate of 40%, which, as Chris Van Hollen (D-Md) said, is a “sweetheart giveaway to the wealthiest 7,200 estates in the country.”

Capital gains taxes, which enabled the Mitt Romneys of the world to enjoy millions of dollars in income and pay only 15% in taxes on it, will rise to a mere 20% (23.8% if Obamacare taxes are figured in) for those couples making more than $450,000 ($400,000 for individuals). So, if you are Mitt Romney, you will have to find a way to live without that extra dough. Somehow I think he’ll cope.

But he may not even have to worry about coping. Bloomberg Businessweek reported the following about the increased capital gains tax in the new bill:

Many households with incomes above $500,000 won’t face the higher rates at all, because deductions are subtracted from gross income before the rates are assessed.

Finally, the deal Joe Biden brokered with Mitch McConnell does nothing but delay a fight over the sequester and over the dreaded and fast-approaching fight over the debt ceiling that Republicans have pledged to use as a tool to force Democrats to cut entitlements. We are guaranteed to go through all this nonsense again, though this time it would threaten an economic crisis that would dwarf the one we just averted.

President Obama, in his statement after the House vote on Tuesday night, said this:

Now, one last point I want to make — while I will negotiate over many things, I will not have another debate with this Congress over whether or not they should pay the bills that they’ve already racked up through the laws that they passed. Let me repeat: We can’t not pay bills that we’ve already incurred. If Congress refuses to give the United States government the ability to pay these bills on time, the consequences for the entire global economy would be catastrophic — far worse than the impact of a fiscal cliff.

Even though the President went to some trouble to explain that he will not negotiate with Congress over yet another stalemate over the debt ceiling, it is hard to see how he can avoid it, especially since Obama’s press secretary took the “constitution option” off the table recently:

This administration does not believe that the 14th Amendment gives the president the power to ignore the debt ceiling — period.

Section 4 of that amendment says,

The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payments of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.

Now, it is true that the President himself has not actually ruled out such a thing, saying this summer only that,

I have talked to my lawyers. They are not persuaded that that is a winning argument.

That statement, obviously, assumes court involvement. But any judiciary action—and some smart people believe the courts would not even get involved in this political matter—would require time. And Mr. Obama may conclude that by educating the public on the dire consequences of a failure to raise the debt ceiling, and given the extreme unpopularity of Republicans in Congress, that he will have plenty of latitude to do what needs to be do.

Additionally—and this may be the saving grace of this deal for Democrats—Obama said on Monday:

…if Republicans think that I will finish the job of deficit reduction through spending cuts alone — and you hear that sometimes coming from them, that sort of after today we’re just going to try to shove…spending cuts at us that will hurt seniors, or hurt students, or hurt middle-class families, without asking also equivalent sacrifice from millionaires or companies with a lot of lobbyists, et cetera — if they think that’s going to be the formula for how we solve this thing, then they’ve got another thing coming.  That’s not how it’s going to work.  We’ve got to do this in a balanced and responsible way.

That rather strong statement suggests that Obama has a definite strategy in mind for dealing with Republican threats to wreck the economy in order to get what they want.  If he does, and if his strategy is successful, the bad things in the fiscal cliff deal will not look so bad.

And let us hope that what Democrats have done—setting in stone tax cuts that have partly contributed to our fiscal problems—will not someday hinder them as they attempt to protect vital government programs from those who mean to drag the country back into the 18th century.

_____________________________

*For those couples earning between $250,000 and $450,000, less generous Clinton-era tax exemptions and deductions will return, which will increase their tax liability and likely satisfy President Obama’s insistence of tax increases for the “top 2 percent”; but the tax rate cuts themselves are permanent for those couples making under $450,000, which is less than 1% of taxpayers.

Here’s What Happened On Tuesday Night

If you didn’t see Wednesday night’s episode of The Rachel Maddow Show, I suggest you go here and watch it. From start to finish, it was simply the best show she has done.

All of us who sympathize, to one degree or another, with what the Democratic Party stands for, need to sit back and take in all of what happened on Tuesday night. It really was remarkable.

And here is a rather remarkable accounting of it by Saint Rachel, an account we should savor all the way to the end:

We are not going to have a Supreme Court that will overturn Roe versus Wade.

There will be no more Antonin Scalias and Samuel Alitos added to this court.

We’re not going to repeal health reform.

Nobody is going to kill Medicare and make old people in this generation or any other generation fight it out on the open market to try to get themselves health insurance. We’re not going to do that.

We’re not going to give a 20% tax cut to millionaires and billionaires and expect programs like food stamps and kid’s insurance to cover the cost of that tax cut.

We’ll not make you clear it with your boss if you want to get birth control under the insurance plan that you’re on.

We are not going to redefine rape.

We are not going to amend the United States Constitution to stop gay people from getting married.

We are not going to double Guantanamo.

We are not eliminating the Department of Energy or the Department of Education or Housing at the federal level.

We are not going to spend $2 trillion on the military that the military does not want.

We are not scaling back on student loans, because the country’s new plan is that you should borrow money from your parents.

We are not vetoing the Dream Act.

We are not self-deporting.

We are not letting Detroit go bankrupt.

We are not starting a trade war with China on Inauguration Day in January.

We are not going to have, as a president, a man who once led a mob of friends to run down a scared, gay kid, to hold him down and forcibly cut his hair off with a pair of scissors, while that kid cried and screamed for help, and there was no apology, not ever.

We are not going to have a Secretary of State John Bolton.

We are not bringing Dick Cheney back.

We are not going to have a foreign policy shop stocked with architects of the Iraq War. We are not going to do it. We had the chance to do that if we wanted to do that, as a country, and we said no, last night, loudly…

The Democratic senator who was supposed to be the most endangered incumbent in the country not only won, she won by 16 points.

Republican Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts, who was so stuffed with hedge funds money that he burped credit default swaps, Scott Brown lost by a lot to the nation’s foremost authority on the economic rights of the middle class.

After marriage rights for same-sex couples were voted down in state after state after state for years, more than 30 times in a row, this year, all change. In Maine, they voted on marriage equality and they voted for it. In Maryland, they voted on marriage equality and they voted for it. In Minnesota, they were asked to vote against marriage equality, and Minnesota refused to ban it. In Washington state, the vote is not called yet. They are still counting the vote and we will be watching closely, but if you are on the pro-gay rights side in Washington state, it should be noted that it is looking pretty good.

In Iowa, anti-gay activists were sure that they were going to turf out a judge for ruling in favor of marriage equality. They had done it before, to a bunch of other judges. They had been successful every time they had tried before. But not this one, not this time. Judge Wiggins in Iowa keeps his seat.

Nevada elects its first African-American congressman this year.

America gets our first openly gay United States Senator.

America gets our first-ever Asian-American woman senator from Hawaii. Her seat in the House, I should note, gets filled by…a Democratic Iraq War veteran. I’m going to tell you right now that her name is Tulsi Gabbard, because she is on the fast track to being very famous some day. Tulsi Gabbard.

Speaking of Iraq War veterans, Tammy Duckworth, veteran helicopter pilot who lost both her legs in Iraq, she is going to Congress, and she is sending home the opponent who mocked her for her war record, Joe Walsh.

California relaxed its three-strikes-you’re-out law and rejected a law to cripple the political power of unions.

Decriminalization of marijuana was approved in Washington and in Colorado.

The astonishing tide of dark money spent against Democratic Senators Jon Tester in Montana and Sherrod Brown in Ohio turned out to be pointless. Both those Democratic senators won. They held on to their seats.

Democrats won a Senate seat in North Dakota, of all places, a seat that nobody thought they could win.

All of these states that had this hugely aggressive, total Republican takeover from the 2010 elections—Ohio and Wisconsin and Michigan and Pennsylvania and Virginia and Florida—all of those states that went so red in state government in these past couple of years and that then had these big fights inside their states over how Republicans were governing there, in Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia— and we will see about Florida— last night not only did Republicans lose the presidential election in every single one of those states, Republicans lost the Senate race in every single one of those states too: Sherwood Brown, Tammy Baldwin, Debbie Stabenow, Bob Casey, Tim Kaine, Bill Nelson. Depending on Florida, a Democratic sweep of the presidency, and definitely a Democratic sweep of the Senate races in those states that the GOP was so excited to have supposedly turned red in a way that was going to stick.

Last night, Democratic women swept every major office in New Hampshire.

Last night, California Democrats won a Democratic super-majority in the state house and in the state senate. Not just majorities in California, but super majorities. Wherein, if the Republicans don’t turn up, any of them, any day, at work, nothing will be different in California  They’re completely legislatively irrelevant.

Allen West lost his seat.

More women got elected to the U.S. Senate than at any time in U.S. history.

The Republican presidential nominee and vice presidential nominee both lost their home states.

Missouri and Montana and West Virginia chose democratic governors.

West Virginia chose its first gay state legislator. So did North Dakota. West Virginia and North Dakota? Yes, seriously.

Joe Lieberman’s old seat went to a real Democrat in Connecticut.

The proportion of young people voting compared to 2008, it went up. Same with African-Americans, up from 2008. Same with Latinos, up from 2008. Not down, up.

If you are a liberal or if you are rooting for the Democrats, last night was a very, very, very big night.

And, oh, yeah, this happened: President Barack Obama, yes, will go down in history as our nation’s first African-American president. But he will also go down in history as the most successful Democratic presidential candidate since FDR. President Bill Clinton got re-elected too, I know, but only Barack Obama got re-elected with not just big electoral college margins, but also with majority wins in the popular vote, twice.

Wow.

Celebrate! Karl Rove Went Nuts!

Now we know exactly why Republicans tried so hard to keep people from voting.

The easiest thing to do this morning, after Tuesday’s great Democratic victory, would be to rehearse all the pre-election hooey that oozed from Foxed-up folks, whether it be local bloggers or well-known extremists on TV and radio, who were cock-sure that Americans wouldn’t put the black Kenyan socialist back in the White’s House.

Yes, that would be so easy. But because I am such a gracious winner, I’m just not gonna play back all that stuff, all that vitriol-based commentary, all those foolish predictions by the Obama-haters. Nope, I’m not gonna do it.

Couldn’t help it.

But I’ll spare you the rest of the rubbish that came from others, who I am sure had a hard time popping out of bed this morning, at least those who could actually get to sleep after it became clear that they are going to have to live with Barack Obama for another four years.

And they will have to live with more Democrats in the Democrat-controlled Senate and a few more in the House. And, ahhhh, they will have to live with ObamaCare.

Not that some of those folks didn’t put up a fight last night.

I watched with utter delight what happened on Fox after it called the election for the President. Turd Blossom, uh, Karl Rove, was in rare form. He openly challenged Fox’s “decision desk“—nerdish guys and gals who crunch the numbers using decidedly non-ideological arithmetic—and pleaded with the anchors to do something about it. To stop it. To repeal the laws of mathematics.

Here’s how Time’s TV critic, James Poniewozik described it:

What is unusual–really, one of the most spectacular things I have ever seen on cable news–is for one arm of a network to basically turn against itself on-air. “Here’s what we’re going to do!” said anchor Bret Baier. “We’re going to get someone from the decision desk and we’re going to bring them in here and we’re going to have them on air and we’re going to interview them about this decision.”

That’s right: One of you nerds had better get in here and explain yourselves to Karl Rove! You have made an important Republican very upset!

If you didn’t see what happened on Fox, I suggest you read Poniewozik’s entire account of it, including his summation of Karl Rove’s attempt to commandeer a network in service to his political party:

It was a fitting moment for an election that often seemed to be a campaign over the idea of mathematical knowability itself. But it was also a glaring, and embarrassing, example of the extent to which Fox News has become an arm of the Republican Party and is expected by GOP operatives to behave as one. Rove may be a party big shot, but he’s just a guy giving analysis on Fox’s air. He does not run the network, even if his friends do.

And yet apparently no one in Fox’s studio felt empowered to tell him that, just because he’d raised a squillion dollars for Republicans SuperPACs this election, he is not entitled to have the decision desk hauled out to answer to him like a chef who sent out an undercooked steak. It’s the sort of thing that might cause you to examine your mission as a journalistic network. I’m not waiting up for that to happen, though.

No, Fox “News” will not examine its journalistic mission. It won’t ask itself why so many of us put quotation marks around its “News.” It will continue to falsely call itself fair and balanced and wage war on arithmetic and the Democratic Party.

But Democrats can celebrate one simple fact today. Despite all of what the Fox “News” Channel did to sabotage their chances of winning, despite all that Karl Rove and his moneyed minions did to try to buy the election, despite all the attempts to suppress the vote of minorities and young people, a majority of Americans still placed their hope for a better future in the hands of the Democratic Party.

And at least for one day, that is worth celebrating.

Tea Party Tongues

The jobs numbers are out for June and it is becoming clear that the Tea Party has paralyzed not only the government, but it has gone a long way toward freezing in place a weak recovery.

Oh, I know the right-wing is proud of its achievements.  After all, they have managed to bring Democrats to the budget-cutting table; they have all politicians now talking in Tea Party tongues; they have managed to change the debate from what to do about the struggling economy and jobs to how much to cut entitlement programs and other staples in the Democratic Party and American diet, like, say, education.

They have done a lot those teapartiers. But they certainly can be most proud of contributing significantly to stagnating economic growth and keeping unemployment high—both of which just happen to be politically deadly for Barack Obama in 2012—and they show little sign of relenting.

Their continued opposition to government stimulus—in any form—and their continued insistence that we can cut our way to prosperity, including cutting taxes even further than the government-starving ratios in place now, is the most significant contributing factor in our inability to escape the black hole of the Great Recession.

The unemployment rate has now crept up to 9.2% and job growth has been essentially flat the last two months.  But the worst of the news is summarized in this sentence from CNN:

So far, the nation has only gained back about a fifth of the 8.8 million jobs lost during the recession.

And while Tea Party Republicans in Congress have spent a good deal of time fretting over Planned Parenthood and National Public Radio and other non-jobs concerns, they have managed to do what many of them said they wanted to do when they ran for office. From Bloomberg:

Employment in government continued to trend down over the month (-39,000). Federal employment declined by 14,000 in June. Employment in both state government and local government continued to trend down over the month and has been falling since the second half of 2008.

Yep, they can be proud of this accomplishment, as thousands upon thousands of teachers and other “government” workers join the millions of other victims of the kind of Republican economics that ruled the day not so long ago and a kind of economics that will—if Mr. Obama is defeated in 2012 because of the bad jobs numbers this year—rule our tomorrow.

Friends May Go

Friends may come and friends may go,
Friends may peter out we know;
We’ve been friends through thick and thin,
Peter out…or peter in.

—old toast

Anthony Weiner, famous now for acting like an unsupervised teenager, was one of my favorite liberals.  He took on the bad guys on Fox “News”; he took on the hard-right Republican rabble in the House; he articulated the kind of liberalism in which I strongly believe.

Which, of course, is why he has to go, has to sort of peter out.

It doesn’t matter to me that he broadcast his photogenic weenie all over creation, or that he had sex talk with consenting adults, or that he rubbed himself raw while doing either one of the above.

But it does matter that he could walk in front of his constituents, via the camera he loves so much, and tell a self-serving lie.  He should have either shut up or confessed or resigned.  Democrats believe in the authenticity of government, in the basic credibility of the political class.  Lying so blatantly, even about one’s weenie, undermines that credibility and undermines the Democrats’ argument for good government.

If Mr. Weiner really believes in the politics he’s been preaching, he will leave the scene.  He certainly realizes that the other side will use his continued presence to delegitimize not so much him, but his brand of politics and his political party, home to his kind of politics.

He owes it to the Democratic Party, to his fellow Democrats, and to his fellow liberals, to go home, peter out or peter in.

Republicans Counting On Dumb Voters

Michael Shear, writing for The New York Times, characterizes the upcoming Paul Ryan-Republican House budget plan as “a dramatic political bet“:

The budget they are preparing to embrace in the coming days would slash federal government spending by more than $6 trillion over the next 10 years, mostly by reinventing the nation’s largest social programs in ways that Republicans have talked about for years.

Medicare would become a means-tested support program for private insurance. Medicaid would give states new control over their money for the poor. Taxes on business and the wealthy would come down. Overall spending across a range of programs would be capped.

Shear’s point about the gamble is this:

Packaging long-held Republican ideas into a huge shift in policy, the lawmakers are betting that voters will focus less on the individual things they don’t like and more on the overall impression of the party’s fiscal discipline.

Well, voters would first have to overlook 30 years of the party’s fiscal recklessness before they could focus on today’s soak-the-poor-reward-the-rich incarnation of Republican philosophy.

Are the voters that dumb?

Republicans are betting they are.

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