This morning, House Speaker John Boehner’s spokesman blasted out an e-mail titled “ ‘A Suicidal Tetrahedron’? ‘The Dodecahedron of Mutually-Assured Destruction’?”
It wasn’t a tribute to an obscure work of the late Ray Bradbury but rather a fairly accurate description of the Democratic Party’s scrambled position on another darkly named event: Taxmageddon, the year-end expiration of the Bush tax cuts.
“Folks—The conflict among Washington Democrats over stopping the largest tax hike in history is now far too complicated to be described by the usual ‘circular firing squad’ cliché,” wrote the spokesman, Michael Steel. He noted that President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, Kent Conrad (the Senate Budget Committee chair), Bill Clinton and Larry Summers all have varying proposals for dealing with the expiration of the Bush tax cuts.
Steel is being a bit disingenuous when he invokes Clinton and Summers, since for one thing they have no actual say on policy, but more importantly, didn’t really break from anyone. All Clinton said was that he felt the post-election lame-duck Congress would probably have to briefly extend the tax cuts while the parties worked out a deal; he wasn’t, as Republicans tried to claim, saying the Bush tax cuts should be permanently extended.
But that doesn’t mean the Democratic Party actually has a coherent stance on tax policy—and it should really come up with one quickly, since the Republican policy is well known and easy to understand: tax cuts for everyone.
For Democrats, Obama stakes out the left side of the party debate: the White House reiterated this week it will not extend the Bush tax cuts for earners over $250,000, even temporarily.
Pelosi and Schumer, meanwhile, are pushing for the expiration of tax cuts for those earning over $1 million, because they think it will be a simpler public relations task. “The 250 [cutoff] never made it.… If we can get the $1 million people, and above, to pay their fair share, we get a lot of money,” Pelosi said last week. “If that’s easier for the public to understand, then we should go that route.”
Conrad, the powerful chair of the Senate Budget Committee, said last week that it “might make some sense” to extend all of the Bush tax cuts temporarily while the parties hammer out a solution—the same thing Clinton said. Conrad didn’t state a preferred outcome, though he did suggest Congress would “fundamentally reform the current corporate and individual tax system.”
This strikes me as a looming disaster and massive strategic miscalculation. How can Democrats not have a coherent battle plan for the biggest legislative face-off in recent memory?