Dancing With Congress: Tax Cut Boogie, Take One

Today's "summit" between the House and Senate leaders and President Obama looks a little like Bristol Palin pretending to be a dancer on TV. Everyone shuffles around, but it doesn't look pretty or feel quite right. Everyone has a favorite and everyone's rooting for theirs to win.

After the summit, the first couple stepped up: Mitch McConnell and John Boehner. They mentioned bifurcation as a compromise on the vote. Looked pretty, sounded good, but they knew they had Dave Camp on the judges panel waiting to shoot it down.

On the other side, President Obama stepped up with an optimists' view and sunny outlook, claiming that these summits would continue, that people wanted them to work together, and naming his priorities. Extending middle class tax cuts, ratifying the START treaty, and extending unemployment were on his to-do list. Applause all around.

And now the voting begins. Here's what's on the table with a 12/24 deadline looming large:

  • Unemployment extensions: Democrats want a year-long extension. Republicans want no extension.
  • Extension of Bush tax cuts: Democrats want middle class tax cuts and the stimulus tax cuts extended. Republicans want all tax cuts extended for all income levels. Wild card: BlueDog Democrats
  • START Treaty: As amazed as I am to even include this in the list, here it is. It must be approved by 2/3rds of the Senate before the end of the 111th Congress or the entire committee process begins again in the next session, meaning it could be delayed as much as another year, for nothing more than political grandstanding.
  • Medicare "Doc Fix": This delays the cut to doctors' reimbursements for 20% as it has each year. Note: It looks like this has now been pushed into the next session of Congress, since the president signed a 30-day extension today.
  • Defense Appropriations Bill, which currently includes DADT repeal and DREAM Act: DADT is the sticking point, of course, despite today's report from the military affirming minimal disruption if it's repealed. The only leverage the administration has on DADT repeal beyond the principle of the thing are pending court challenges, which they've kept alive in order to have that leverage. If it is not repealed in this session, it creates a policy mess for this administration and those who come behind it.

Those are the bargaining chips. How do they fall, in light of this appearance of bipartisanship which isn't really that at all? Assume the Republicans will not give an inch on tax cuts. Assume they're willing to allow unemployment extensions to expire. They should feel some duty toward our military and national security, so I imagine START and appropriations will be on the table.

Will they trade a one-year extension of the full tax cut package for a one-year extension of unemployment insurance? Will the DREAM Act survive or be sacrificed for DADT repeal? It really comes down to this: No side will get everything they want. All sides may get something they want. What do we want most?

How would you put all this together and get it done before December 24th?


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