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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Let’s Say Tax Deal Rebellion Succeeds: Then What?

It’s too early to tell anything definitive just now, but there is definitely a possibility that Democratic and Republican opponents of the deal struck by the White House and GOP congressional leaders can combine forces to kill it.
Progressives avid for this to happen do need to ask themselves a simple question: then what? It’s not like the collapse of the deal is going to place Obama or other Democrats in a time machine where they can start all over in mobilizing public pressure on congressional Republicans to support their own position. Given the strength of conservative opposition to the deal, GOPers are not about to recut it to make it more acceptible to Democrats, particularly if any extension of top end rates and any compromise on the estate tax are off the table. Besides, Republicans are about to take over the House and increase their numbers in the Senate; time is on their side.
If Democrats are considered in media accounts the prime factors in killing the deal, Republicans may well be happy to play a waiting game, refusing to extend unemployment benefits (much less provide additional economic stimulus through a payroll tax holiday or extension of low-income refundable tax credits) and blaming any economic or political fallout on divisions among Democrats. A tax logjam will also provide a convenience excuse for the GOP to continue to obstruct votes on DADT and the START treaty.
So are progressives willing to pay that price for the principle of not extending upper-income tax cuts? I’m asking this question honestly; personally, I consider ever-worsening economic inequality the great undiscussed issue of our time, and think the abolition of estate taxes would be morally obscene. But those who urge a course of action that makes these positions non-negotiable have a responsibility to game-plan this out a bit in terms of real-life consequences. “Fighting” is not a strategy; nor is “drawing a line in the sand.” No rebellion is going to change the Obama administration’s handling of the 2009 stimulus bill or the 2010 health reform bill. And you can’t make the tax issue a no-brainer: yes, Obama did promise to oppose extension of tax cuts keyed to the top bracket, but he also promised, much more vocally, to extend the rest of them, so he’s going to have to break a promise anyway you look at it.
In other words, it would be a shame if all this progressive anger at the president is really just retroactive, and about the public option or “card check” or the size of the stimulus or Afghanistan, because the issues bound up in the tax deal are very real and immediate, and by no means symbolic. So they should be part of the discussion, as should any thoughts the president might have about how he intends to regain some political initiative after the big Democratic Congress of the last two years officially becomes a thing of the past.

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