Sock Puppet Theater: The House Passes Bill to Make Bush’s Middle Class Tax Cuts Permenant

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The House today passed 234-188 a permanent extension of Bush’s tax cuts for those making $250,000 or less. A handful of Dems – mostly moderates and surviving Blue Dogs — defected and voted against the measure, which was, essentially, sock puppet theater for the benefit of the Democratic base. Even if the Senate takes a similar vote, it won’t pass. “This is the same kind of politics that the Democratic caucus has practiced the last couple of years: taking positions that are untenable in the Senate, either to make a political point or to get some kind of bargaining power,” said Artur Davis, a Democrat who lost a bid for Alabama governor earlier this year and so won’t be returning in January. “Everyone in DC knows what’s going to happen: there is going to be a permanent extension for the middle class and a short term extension for upper income people because the Obama Administration can’t eat a tax increase on January 1st for the whole country. The Republicans happen to have all the cards here and that’s the political reality. And the idea that the House is getting bargaining power for this vote completely misreads the political situation. This is a purely symbolic vote, one which some members, like me, are voting against to protest”.

The vote came half an hour before White House, Democratic and Republican negotiators were set to meet on the first floor on the House-side of the Capitol to hammer out a deal on extending the tax cuts for the rich. A permanent extension is unlikely, but some Republicans have indicated they would be willing to accept an extension of a couple of years for the upper bracket tax cuts.

Republicans were outraged by today’s vote, which comes two days after the White House and Democratic leaders pledged to work together on the issue at the so-called slurpee summit. The vote was designed to embarrass the GOP and to force them to vote against making permanent the middle class tax cuts for the sake of those for the wealthiest Americans. House Speaker-elect John Boehner called the move “chicken crap” in a press conference with reporters. “This is nonsense,” Boehner continued. “The election was one month ago. We are 23 months from the next election and the political games have already started trying to set up the next election.”

Chris Van Hollen, a Marlyand Democrat and advisor to Speaker Pelosi, defended the vote, saying the House could not and should not take votes because of what “may or may not happen in the Senate.” “It was important to the House to do what we think is the best thing for the country and the economy right now and it was a very big vote – a margin of more than 50 – and so we thought it was important to send a message on tax relief on the middle class in a way that doesn’t blow a $700 billion hole in the deficit. That was the right approach for the economy and for fiscal responsibility.”

The vote shows the tightrope that Dems must walk going forward: President Obama has to work on satisfying a base upset that Don’t Ask Don ‘t Tell has yet to be repealed, the Employee Free Choice Act has languished, the DREAM Act is stuck, climate change is dead and health care passed without a strong public plan. Compromise is not a word that excites the Democratic base: they feel far too much compromising has already been done under the squandered Democratic majorities of the last two years. At the same time, to get anything done now that Republicans control the House (or will as of January), Obama’s going to have to learn to work with Republicans.