Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Democrats Show "Profiles In Timidity" On Bush Tax Cuts For Wealthy

Robert Reich, in a commentary recently excerpted here, expresses frustration over the Democrats' failure to hold a vote on ending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. That would have forced the Republicans to filibuster, holding up middle class tax cuts and making it clear that the G.O.P. is ready to add billions to the debt. Reich states that the Democrats gave up "a defining issue" and asks, "When will they ever learn?"

In an editorial, "Profiles in Timidity," the New York Times similarly takes the Democrats to task for not taking a stand and sharply defining themselves against the Republicans. While the president made it clear that he was opposed to shoveling more cash at the wealthiest, his party hemmed and hawed and did nothing. Democrats in conservative districts, fearful of burdening millionaires and billionaires, aren't going to impress anyone. From the editorial:

We are starting to wonder whether Congressional Democrats lack the courage of their convictions, or simply lack convictions.

Last week, Senate Democrats did not even bother to schedule a debate, let alone a vote, on the expiring Bush tax cuts. This week, House Democrats appear poised to follow suit. The idea is to spare incumbents from having to vote before Nov. 2 on whether to let the rich go on paying less taxes than the nation needs them to pay.

This particular failure to act was not about Republican obstructionism, of which there has been plenty. This was about Democrats failing to seize an opportunity to do the right thing and at the same time draw a sharp distinction between themselves and the Republicans.

President Obama has been steadfast — and basically correct — in calling to extend the Bush tax cuts for 98 percent of taxpayers and to let them expire for the top 2 percent. But by postponing a vote on the cuts, Democrats are increasing the likelihood of an eventual cave-in to Republicans, who are pushing for an extension of all the tax cuts, including the high-end ones.

We presume that Democrats, especially those in more conservative districts, are doing this in response to the anti-Washington insurgency on the right. But it’s hard to imagine that conservative voters will confuse them for Republicans, and punting on the tax cuts won’t score them any points with the Democratic base.

As the politics of the tax-cut fight move to center stage, far more important issues are being pushed into the background. Letting the high-end tax cuts expire, for instance, is a crucial step in the long process of reducing the federal budget deficit. Extending them will add $700 billion more to the debt over the next decade than under the Obama administration’s tax proposal — and for what? To bolster the weak economy, the money would be better spent in any of several more demonstrably effective ways, like payroll tax cuts, infrastructure spending or state aid to hire more teachers and police.

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