With strong public support and Democratic majorities during the lame duck session, it might seem that Congressional action on a permanent tax cut for middle class American families and 95% of small businesses earning less than $250,000 would be a no-brainer – but that has not been the case.
Finally showing some independence from the White House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi led the Democratic majority to the Floor and without anyone saying so, challenged President Obama to ‘walk his talk’ The successful House amendment (234 – 188) shrewdly included wealthier taxpayers on their first $250,000 of income. After the vote, incoming House Speaker John Boehner, with his knickers caught in a snit fit, called the vote ‘chicken crap.”
As a result of the House vote, the more conservative Democratic Senate was pressured to act in a rare Saturday morning debate. Two amendments were offered. The first by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Montana) was identical to the House language and was defeated 53 – 36 with 4 Democrats (Senators Feingold (Wisc), Nelson (Neb), Webb (Va.) and Manchin (W.Va) and Lieberman (I-Conn)) voting against the middle class tax cuts.
A ‘compromise’ amendment offered by Sen . Chuck Schumer (NY) raised the limit to earners of $1 million. The Schumer amendment failed 53 – 37 with 4 Democrats (Senators Feingold (Wisc), Rockefeller (W.Va), Harkin (Iowa), Durbin (Ill) and Leiberman I-Conn) all voting No.
Watching CSpan coverage of the Senate debate, it seemed curious that Sen. Baucus, Darth Vader of last year’s health care debate, offered the lead amendment and that Sen. Kent Conrad (N.D.), who supports the Deficit Commission recommendations, joined Baucus in voting for both amendments since neither are known for a compassionate nature when it comes to the country’s working families.
As the debate and roll call continued, it was puzzling why high profile liberal Senators who have built careers supporting working class values would vote against these amendments. None have yet come forward with any plausible explanation that I am aware of.
But consider this hypothetical - if those five Senators had voted with their Democratic base, the Baucus vote could have been 58 – 31 and the Schumer vote might have been 58 – 32 (Standing Rules of the Senate requires 60 votes on this type of amendment.) If the Democrats had garnered 58 votes instead of 53, would there have been more pressure on the two Maine Senators and Sen. Scott Brown (Mass) to come along. If the vote had been 58 in favor of extending middle class tax cuts, would it have been more difficult for Sens. Snowe, Collins and Brown to justify their No votes?
On the other hand, why would Republicans consider voting for extension of the tax cuts knowing they would ultimately get a better deal with the President’s negotiator?
All this is not to ignore Republican hypocrisy but here’s the real question is with numbers from the Center for Responsive Politics: with 261 Millionaires (54 in the Senate and 207 in the House - out of 535 members) in Congress including the President of the United States, is it realistic to expect those who would benefit from the wealthy tax cut, those 55 members with incomes over $10 million and 8 members with incomes over $100 million, those Members with a median income of $765,000 in the House and $2.3 M in the Senate, those with a clear and personal conflict, to vote against their own self interest?
Apparently genetically incapable of delivering on campaign promises, Obama single handedly demoralized the Democratic base weeks earlier indicating he was open to compromise with Republicans. Never using his bully pulpit to turn the tide, the President boxed himself in to a stalemate of his own making and then used that stalemate to justify continuation of Bush tax policies.
It has been suggested that since making laws has been unfavorably compared to making sausage as a messy business, it would be better not to watch either. It would not be the first time that a dysfunctional Senate and Obama Administration have been snookered by Republicans in a less than dazzling public display of discombobulated legislative wizardry.
Come to think of it…making sausage is whole lot more appealing.