In the Arena

Democrats Fold? Yes and No

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Lots of commentary about the Congressional Democrats “folding” on important issues the past few days.

For the record, I agree with those, like Dean Baker at Tapped, who think the Democrats should have tried to rectify a loophole that allows private equity fund managers to have their profits–in effect, their salaries–taxed as standard income (35%) rather than as capital gains (15%). The private equity fund managers are making obscene amounts of money as it is–the $6 billion yield could be used to fund SCHIP, as Baker suggests, or a month or two of Iraq (just kidding). This is not “soaking” the rich; it’s taxing them on the same basis the rest of us are taxed. I wish the Democrats had stood firm on this.

I don’t agree with those who believe the Democrats have “folded” by agreeing to support the modified FISA law–even if it is called, in the Orwellian fashion of the Bush Administration, the Protect America Act. From the start, I’ve argued that the NSA’s data-mining program is essential and easily made legal by updating the FISA law. The Bush Administration cynically refused to make it legal, hoping to use Democratic opposition as a political bludgeon. It is possible, as William Banks says in the Times piece:

“Many members continue to fear that if they don’t support whatever the president asks for, they’ll be perceived as soft on terrorism.”

But the FISA law needed to be updated to reflect the technological advances since the late 1970’s, including the use of data-mining, and this bill does that. Needless to say, no actual eavesdropping on conversations should be permitted without a FISA court ruling. (And I have no problem with telecommunications companies being protected from lawsuits brought by those who may or may not have been illegally targeted simply because the Bush Administration refused to update the law.)