Washington was home to an odd double-tiered reality Thursday, where the House passed a tax cut bill designed to please their base but widely referred to as “symbolic” because it cannot pass the Senate, the Senate scheduled a vote Saturday on the same, and left-wing groups nonetheless viciously decried their party for surrendering to political certainties.
“It’s a tangled web of disaster,” said one organized labor official of the situation.
Liberal groups and activists – many of them among the “professional left,” thus dubbed by White House press secretary Robert Gibbs – were left howling with rage after a late-day statement from Gibbs. They saw in Gibbs’ words capitulation to Republican demands that President Obama extend the Bush-era tax cuts for all income levels, instead of letting taxes go up for individuals making more than $200,000 a year and families bringing in more than $250,000 a year.
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and White House Budget Director Jack Lew are in ongoing negotiations with a bipartisan group of four lawmakers.
Gibbs said talk of an imminent deal was “inaccurate and premature,” in an attempt to head off anxiety and anger among Democratic lawmakers and groups that Obama was getting ready to give away the store. The White House told reporters earlier in the day they were working to get things like an extension of unemployment insurance passed in exchange for any possible concessions.
But while Gibbs praised the Democratic-controlled House for passing a bill to extend current rates only for individuals who make $200,000 or less a year and families making $250,000 or less, the subtext of his statement was clear that the White House does not believe they can get such a bill through the Senate.
“The president continues to believe that extending middle class tax cuts is the most important thing we can do for our economy right now and he applauds the House for passing a permanent extension. But, because Republicans have made it clear that they won’t pass a middle class extension without also extending tax cuts for the wealthy, the president has asked Director Lew and Secretary Geithner to work with Congress to find a way forward,” Gibbs said.
Democratic Senate aides also said the votes did not exist for the House bill. But some of Obama’s harshest critics were equally condemning of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.
“He could [pass the House bill], if he was willing to do what fighting entails,” Adam Green, with the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, told The Daily Caller. “Scheduling a vote is not fighting.”
Reid late Thursday night filed cloture on the House bill, as well as on an amendment to extend the current tax rates for everyone making under $1 million a year, sponsored by Sen. Chuck Schumer, New York Democrat. A cloture filing sets the Senate to vote Saturday on whether to end debate and proceed to a final vote on the two measures.
Reid is not expected to get the 60 votes he needs to pass either one.
Jane Hamsher, a liberal blogger known for her bracing criticism of her own party for insufficient conviction, let loose on what she called a “stunt.”
“We’re headed for extending ALL the tax cuts for 2-3 years, because that’s what Obama really wants. The rest is just political theater designed to appease the chumps base,” she wrote. “Meanwhile, as entertaining as all of this is to political junkies, 2 million people are set to lose their unemployment benefits by the end of the year. Which nobody, in the midst of their partisan game playing, seems to give a shit about.”
“It’s Christmas time, you bastards. People can’t feed their kids. You continue to shovel trillions of dollars at the banks. And all of you — [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi, Reid, Obama — you fail the test not only of leadership, but of basic human compassion. Of having any kind of a moral compass,” Hamsher continued.
Jed Lewison at DailyKos.com said that “the question is whether President Obama is willing to stand up, fire up the nation, and drag his plan across the finish line by holding Senate Republicans accountable if they choose to filibuster middle-class tax cuts.”
“Apparently, the answer [to] that question is ‘no,’ at least based on this statement from Robert Gibbs,” Lewison wrote.
Green said after Gibbs’ statement that the PCCC would be increasing a TV ad buy in Iowa, using Obama’s own promise in 2007 to let the upper bracket cuts expire against him.
And MoveOn.org, a liberal advocacy group that claims five million members, launched its own video ad titled, “We want Obama back.”
“Mr. President, please do not compromise with the Republicans about extending the Bush tax cuts,” one woman in the MoveOn video said. Another woman said, “I am in the highest tax bracket. We don’t need the money. The country does.”
Hamsher told TheDC that she would not be pacified if Obama extracted concessions from the GOP on unemployment insurance or on ratification of a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia.
“It just means he got what he wanted all along — and didn’t fight for anything better,” she said via e-mail.
But one of the largest and most influential liberal think tanks in Washington, the Center for American Progress, said compromise with the GOP, as distasteful as it might seem, was probably the only option.
“If the price of a significant continuation of unemployment benefits and other needed legislation is a short extension of the bonus tax breaks for the wealthy, you probably have to take that deal — offensive though it may be,” said Michael Ettlinger, CAP’s vice president for economic policy.
Tellingly, however, Organizing for America, the advocacy arm of the Democratic National Committee that grew out of the Obama campaign and often joins groups such as MoveOn.org in political and policy fights, has been basically silent on the tax cuts. The issue was nowhere on the front page of their website late Thursday.
Within the White House, administration officials said they were confident that the president remains popular with much of his base, despite the protests of the quite vocal “professional left.” Obama continues to receive approval ratings in the high 80s or low 90s with Democratic voters in most opinion polls they said.
But another liberal group, Americans United for Change, trotted out poll numbers from CBS News that showed only 26 percent of Americans support extending all of the tax cuts.
The current brackets are 10,15, 25, 28, 33 and 35 percent, and are scheduled to go up to 15, 28, 31, 36 and 39.6 percent if the Bush tax cuts expire at the end of this year.