Monday, December 13, 2010

Tax deal: purists vs. dealmakers

From Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post:

We've focused quite a bit -- because it's been such lively entertainment -- on the fight among Democrats over the tax agreement. There is also a vigorous debate on the right, but there it is generally, although not exclusively, a fight between the lawmakers/dealmakers vs. purist pundits. On Fox News Sunday Bill Kristol, on behalf of the dealmakers, explainedwhy Republicans should (and nearly all of them will) vote for the deal:
Because they don't have all the leverage, because Barack Obama is still president of the United States. And as we learned in the fight in 1995, '96, when Republicans had both houses of Congress, remember, against a very weakened Bill Clinton, being president counts for a lot.
And do Republicans really want to begin the new Congress -- which they don't control the Senate, incidentally -- by saying, forget about unemployment insurance? People have been out of work 95 weeks. Most of them, this data shows, want jobs. Most of them aren't sitting around enjoying those unemployed benefits.
I mean, I think unemployment insurance is problematic from an economic point of view, but most of those people who are unemployed would like work. The Republican position at the beginning of a new Republican House is going to be, we insist on -- entirely on the purist version of extending current tax rates. None of these tax extenders, which a lot of Republicans have voted for over the years, incidentally -- a lot of these tax extenders were passed in a Republican Congress. No unemployment insurance, it's an untenable position.
There are conservatives who are in the business of making the perfect the enemy of the good. They have talk shows, books sales or advocacy groups, all of which are fueled by perpetual fear and anger that those inside the Beltway are "selling out" the base. Other pundits look at the deal from a pure policy perspective, irrespective of the politics of the moment, and are troubled by the price-tag. And, of course, there are Republicans who want no distance between themselves and the most stalwart Tea Partyers.
Not all Republican office holders seem inclined to go along with the deal.The Hotline is reporting:
This weekend is a pivotal moment for D.C. Republicans and how they hold the line on the tax cut deal. Too many Republicans have already voiced support for the deal for them to turn against it unanimously, but you already see supportive members like Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) questioning the actual substance of the bill. It will be interesting to see if the GOP leadership can hold their members in line, because the Tea Party leaders like Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) have already come out against it. As cliché as it sounds, it really is a battle for the soul of the GOP, and whether a place for compromise exists within the party.
Are we really going to see large numbers of Republicans voting against the bill, which amounts to a vote to raise taxes? An aide to a Republican House leader says that there might be "pockets" of resistance, but he believes "most will support it so taxes do not increase." A senior Senate staffer tells me, "We won't be unanimous, but there is still strong support within the conference." He declines, however, to speculate as to how many votes the GOP will lose.
One congressman to keep an eye on is Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.). He's plainly getting ready for a presidential run, while talking down the tax agreement. Will he vote no with a tip of the hat to the Tea Party-Palin-DeMint segment of the party, staking out his credentials with the base? Or is he intent on showing himself to be a principled, but effective dealmaker? His spokesman Sunday emailed me, "His latest comment from last week was that he is 'not decided but not impressed.'"
You can understand why liberals would vote against it. Those faithful to soak-the-rich tax policy have a hard time justifying why they'd dump their principles for a mere one-year extension of unemployment benefits. But what's the Republicans excuse, with a Democrat in the White House, to block a bill extending the Bush tax cuts? One GOP House staffer dismissed potential opposition to the bill, telling me last night that it is "idiotic to say that this will do nothing for the economy. Not raising taxes will of course have positive economic benefits. Would a longer extension be better? Sure. But raising now would be a disaster, so this will certainly help."
But that's a dealmaker's' perspective -- a non-purist in search of the good, not the perfect. We'll see how many Republicans take a contrary view.

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