Unless he is floating a trial balloon designed to gauge the public's reaction, the president's top adviser says the president is willing to sign off on an across-the-board extension of the Bush tax cuts, including tax cuts that primarily benefit the rich, in order to save the tax cuts for the middle class. "We have to deal with the world as we find it," David Axelrod told The Huffington Post.
As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama promised to make the tax cuts permanent for those earning $250,000 a year or less while letting them expire (as they are set to do) for those earning more.
Some Democratic activists, particularly those aligned with the liberal wing of the party, were urging the Democrats on Capitol Hill to hold a debate and vote on extending the Bush tax cuts before they returned to their constituents to campaign for the midterm elections. They knew that the Democrats were poised to lose seats in both Houses and that their chance to frame the debate in a manner that was favorable to them would dwindle as time went on.
House Democrats could have voted for a proposal that extended the Bush tax cuts for the middle class and force the Republicans to take a stand for or against the middle class. If the Republicans threatened to filibuster that legislation in the senate, Democrats could blame the Republicans for holding middle class tax relief hostage to wealthy special interests.
The Democrats on Capitol Hill, who haven't find a principle they can forcefully defend, squandered their opportunity because they did not believe they could win the debate on taxes. Many felt the voters would oust them if they took a stand against tax cuts that primarily benefited the wealthy. Delaying the vote on extending the tax cuts did not save them from losing the majority in the House of Representatives. They were doomed to lose in some thirty-plus conservative districts that swung for Senator John McCain in his failed bid for the White House as well as many swing districts where voters were set to punish the Democrat incumbents for their perceived failure to create jobs during this economic recession.
In a few months the pendulum will swing and the Republicans will set the agenda and when they do the Republicans could send an across-the-board tax cuts plan to senate and force the Democrats to vote against tax cuts which middle class Americans think they need.
"There are concerns," Axerod said, "that Congress will continue to kick the can down the road in the future by passing temporary extensions for the wealthy time and time again. "But I don't want to trade away security for the middle class in order to make that point."
What Mr. Axelrod and his boss, President Barack Obama to this day fail to understand is that the president can use the bully pulpit to shift the terms in the debate. The chairmen of the deficit commission have just provided the president with yet again the talking point which he could use against the Republicans who are now clamoring for tax cuts for the rich. They say we will need to eliminate the alternative minimum tax, raise the retirement age for collecting social security, and cut medicare in order to cut the deficit and preserve the entitlement programs.
The president should ask the Republicans where they will find the money to offset their tax cuts for millionaires, while preserving the entitlement programs, create jobs, cut the deficit, make no cuts in defense programs, and fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. A president who can force the Republicans to do the math (and as a result gets the American people to do the math) is a president who can get the tax cuts he wants.