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The whole "fiscal cliff negotiation" theme is driving me crazy. Ever since Jonathan Chait and Ezra Klein started acting like there were serious negotiations underway, everyone has gone wild on both sides.
I realize it was only ten days ago, but you know there was a time where we were banging the drum for the White House to hold fast, and you know who was losing that battle? John Boehner, Eric Cantor, and the entire Republican party. We were winning. They were losing. And they knew it.
Representative Tom Cole said the votes were there to pass the middle class tax cuts without any deal, without any bargain, without anything but bringing the bill to the floor. That was on December 12th.
All of a sudden, Boehner started playing "Let's Make a Deal" and the Villagers went crazy with it. But we don't have to. I don't understand why we're letting them muck this up with all manner of stupidity, which is only bolstering Republicans' images at the expense of Democrats.
All anyone has to do is start with what we know: Republicans do not negotiate in good faith ever, and they only negotiate at all when they are pressed to the wall. Therefore, we can all assume this is a lot of smoke with lots of mirrors and absolutely no sincerity.
I am of the belief that absolute clarity is needed in order to get this done in an orderly fashion. That means no muddling up the issues. It is absolutely driving me crazy to see the narrative driven by media that Medicare, Social Security, tax reform and the debt ceiling MUST be wrapped up in a tiny little neat package by December 31st.
No. Nothing need be wrapped up by December 31st. Absolutely nothing. I've heard arguments for why they should be, and so I'll take them one by one:
- Unemployment extensions expire 12/29: These are urgent. I am not minimizing that. But they are separate from any discussion about tax reform, tax rates, and tax cuts. There is no relationship between them and they should be addressed separately from the other issues. If the extensions are renewed in the first weeks of January, it will not do harm to recipients, and can retroactively be corrected.
- But the debt ceiling. ZOMG, the debt ceiling: President Obama needs to have us clamoring and echoing him on this: the debt ceiling is UNRELATED to the tax revenue question now and forevermore, and we should be prepared to have Republicans shut down government over it. Let them take the hit for their folly. Never before 2011 was the debt ceiling a serious hostage, and it shouldn't be one now.
- More stimulus! - The stimulus package the President is suggesting won't even cover Hurricane Sandy relief, which the sick GOP cheapos in Congress have already delayed and dithered about for weeks now. Seriously. President Obama is asking for $56 billion in stimulus. Sandy relief is expected to cost around $60 billion. It's just math.
- Better a Democrat shore up Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, right? Sure. But certainly not in the name of deficit reduction or tax reform. Again, these are issues that are being intentionally smashed together to muddy up what is a simple, straightforward process.
- The payroll tax expires! Uh oh. Good. It should expire. It was always dangerous territory. If they want to extend it, they can extend it in the form of a refundable tax credit for 2013, which doesn't cause money from the General Fund to be transferred to the Social Security trust fund. Withholding can be adjusted to account for the credit, and the economy will be saved from ruin.
The only time Republicans care about the deficit is when they are not in the White House. This is a game, an act, an obscene dance of political gamesmanship, but it is NOT a negotiation.
What we should be doing:
- Ignore the Villagers' hand-wringing
- Stop accepting what they say as truth.
- Stop reacting to everything.
- Start saying out loud that the only thing that should happen before January 1st is an up or down vote in the House on the Senate extension of middle class tax cuts.
- Stomp your feet, call your Congressman, shout it out: ONLY an up or down vote on the middle class tax cuts is warranted, and that means one vote on the Senate bill, not some stupidly crafted package of nonsensical, arcane, ridiculously meaningless "cuts".
Ten days ago we were winning this by not budging at all. Yes, President Obama, that means YOU too. Now suddenly we're engaging in the farce Republicans call "negotiations?" Give me a break. This has been an exercise in how to turn media narratives around for the Republicans' benefit, but it is nothing like a negotiation.
If we really want to win, we simply stop acknowledging all of the stupid GOP party trial balloons floating around us and start pushing for one vote. One vote before December 31st. Just one. No amendments, no extras. One vote on the Senate bill to extend the middle class tax cuts.
Then make them sit at OUR table next year, when the upper rates are set and not going back down. That's how it's done. Our way, not theirs.