UPDATED: What Is So Hard About This Tax Cut Thing?

Frustration is boiling over, not just among progressives, but even middle-of-the-road Democrats. Maybe it's time for a little less conventional wisdom and a little more innovation, because this debate shouldn't be this hard. It just should not. But according to the New York Times, Democrats are considering a two-year minimum extension of all the Bush-era tax rates, which feels a lot like capitulation.

Saturday's vote was a disaster in so many ways. On top of the ten non-voting Republicans, five Senate Democrats peeled off from the pack to join Republicans, including Russ Feingold. Feingold's reason for voting "no" was because he believes they all should expire, but I dare any one of you to find another person who knows that. Instead, we have ridiculous Republican talking points claiming "bipartisan support" for extensions.

And so now, we get this?

Rather than extending the tax rates only on income described by Democrats as middle class — up to $250,000 a year for couples and $200,000 for individuals — the deal would also keep the rates for higher earners, probably for two years. In return, Republicans said they would probably agree to extend jobless aid for the long-term unemployed.

Probably? PROBABLY? What the hell is that, if not the most arrogant response I've heard yet from these deranged maniacs in Congress? Seriously, has the world gone delusional while I was busy reading Wikileaks cables?

KagroX over at Daily Kos has a bit of a different analysis:

It's time to stop trying to understand Republicans in terms of figuring out what they want and trying to find middle ground. If "what they want" were even really of interest to Republicans at this point, then they'd have been over the moon at having a legitimate shot at passing an amendment to make all the tax cuts permanent today. But they walked away from that (as they walked away from a legitimate shot at passing both 1099 repeal and a $39 billion stimulus rescission earlier this week, totally abandoning their "tax cuts don't have to be paid for" rhetoric in the process) because "what they want" at this point is for Democrats to be seen losing as often as possible, on as many things as possible.

Read the whole thing and you'll find out who the real leader of the Republican Senate caucus is. Hint: It's not Mitch McConnell. Digby expands on the whole debate and observes:

I also think the Democrats are idiots not to have dispensed with this issue early on. But I'm guessing they too think this issue isn't a winner for them so they are always just planned to punt. But that raises the question again about the viability of the party. If they cannot even make a winning argument out of cutting taxes for 98% of the people then I'm not sure what they're good for.

Seriously. What the hell are they good for if they can't manage this without looking like idiots? Instead, we get this piece of brilliant analysis from the New York Times article:

Administration officials said the negotiations were focused on the question of extending the tax rates for one or two years, with a three-year extension highly unlikely, even though that time frame would probably eliminate the tax fight as an urgent issue in the 2012 elections.

Many Republicans say they want a permanent extension of the rates, or as long an extension as possible. Democrats say they would not mind the issue coming up during Mr. Obama’s re-election bid, because they see it as politically helpful to them in painting Republicans as defenders of the rich. The debate, of course, could cut the other way, with Republicans again portraying Democrats as seeking to raise taxes.

Earth to Democrats, earth to Democrats, come in, Democrats. Tune in, pay attention. It doesn't resonate, and why would they possibly think it would resonate in 2012 after giving in to GOP terrorist demands in 2010? On what basis would they be able to even think that, much less say it out loud?

From my admittedly not-inside perspective, it seems to me that there is only one choice, and it's not an especially good one. It's principled but politically lethal. Call their bluff, let the whole package expire, and then watch Republicans try to reinstate them next year. Of course, it will also sweep unemployment extenders out with it, during the holidays no less.

We're down to a Catch-22, or Catch-2010. Either do a deal with the lunatic terrorists on the GOP side of the aisle, or leave millions of unemployed people without a safety net. I don't know whether I would have the stomach to play that out or not. If any extension is considered, it should be for the exact same amount of time they guarantee extending unemployment insurance, with no strings attached.

Or better yet, write a poison pill into this tax cut extension, requiring those millionaires benefiting to create a minimum number of jobs with their tax cut or lose it. For ten years these rates have not created jobs, no matter what the whining loonies on the right say. Make them put facts where their bluster is. Give them their extension, but make it contingent on creating a minimum number of jobs. If they don't or can't, they get bumped to the higher rate.

Any deal is a Faustian bargain that will haunt Democrats until they start changing their tune (or hire a PR firm with some chops). They need to repeat this over and over and over: Taxes are patriotic. Taxes build roads and dams and bolster our infrastructure. Taxes make our country strong. Taxes create jobs, strengthen the economy. This whole debate has ignored the idea of taxes as an act of patriotism. I lay the blame for that on Democrats, who hem, haw, and apologize instead of holding them up as something good.

I'd still like to think the House could force expiration. Nancy Pelosi has the guts to do it, too. But again, at what price? Taking anything away from the unemployed right now is probably too costly, not to mention the fate of the START treaty, DADT repeal, and the DREAM Act.

There I go again, imagining a functional government instead of one that's stymied again and again by insane right-wingers who will stop at nothing to defeat Democrats and this President, even if it means taking the whole country down with it.

UPDATE: This is an encouraging development. Retiring GOP Senator George Voinovich has just stepped up to oppose any extension of the Bush tax cuts. Perhaps there is hope for bipartisan opposition after all.

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