Having given the GOP their "holy grail", Obama loses Oregon's four Democratic congressmen

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

Willamette Week reports that all four Democratic members of the Oregon delegation in the U.S. House have announced their opposition to the tax cut deal that President Obama cut with GOP leaders.

In a column on Huffington Post entitled "Leverage", Congressman Earl Blumenauer had this to say:

By refusing to stare down Republicans on issues that are supported by the American people like assistance for the unemployed and not extending tax cuts for the most well off, the president loses his leverage. Obama would be supported by Congress if he vetoes proposals that are economically unsound and stands firm. There will never be a better time to shine a spotlight and make these two issues crystal clear. If the president blinks, how can he be expected to stand firm on health care reform's death by a thousand cuts? How can he have the credibility and leverage to usher in the necessary changes to how America does business?

This agreement means two years of dithering, delay, and dissembling on the big issues: defense modernization, health reform implementation, energy security, and tax overhaul. These and more must be addressed in this decade of decision. Decisive action now by the president makes real progress possible during the remaining two years and probably a second term. Sliding past this moment with a one-sided compromise, which leaves all the problems in place and America another trillion dollars in debt, sets up the same confrontation down the road.

I've been puzzling through this one. I'm never a fan of giving the Republicans what they want - President Obama called it their "holy grail" - without something equally serious in return.

To be sure, extending unemployment benefits for several million people is critical. Right before the holidays, in the dead of winter, with the economy teetering - that's no time to suddenly send several million people to the soup kitchens, the homeless shelters, the welfare rolls, and (some, at least) into criminal acts born of desperation and survival.

The key question: Would Republicans have caved? I don't know.

But I do know this -- the president has utterly failed to communicate his view in a way that resonates with the American people. Sure, he called the Republicans "hostage takers" - and they are - but I can't help but think of how Bill Clinton would have talked about this. He'd probably have cut the same deal, but would have focused his talking points on the personal, human impact of these unemployment benefits -- rather than talking antiseptically about dealmaking and political process.

I still love Barack Obama. I still believe in his presidency. But when he ran, he said he'd "rather be a great one-term president than a mediocre two-term president." I'm still waiting to hear what his bottom line is, what he won't negotiate away.

We elected an inspirational leader. And with the exception of a few weeks in October, when he called the Republicans out (and his poll numbers shot back up), he seems to have forgotten how to inspire and how to lead.

The president should stop operating as the 101st Senator, a sort of uber-committee-chairman cutting deals to move legislation through inch by inch.

It's time to lead. If you lead, Mr. President, the people will follow -- and then the Republicans will be forced out of the way.

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      (Uh, the bastards are the GOP, not our 4.) And they are. Might as well get right out there. Greedy, heartless and entitled.

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        Greedy?! By allowing individuals to keep what they earn, instead of voting to take it from them? You have an interesting concept of 'greedy'.

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      Here's my economic forest: because the EITC is being extended at the 2003 levels rather than the ARRA levels (where was the fight over that one?), more than 90,000 Oregon working families will be ineligible for the credit this year.

      This, for something Ronald Reagan called "the best piece of pro-family, anti-poverty legislation in American history."

      But no one's talking about that.

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      I have not heard progressive arguing that a lot of this bill wouldn't be economically stimulative. The problem is borrowing 130 billion from China to make rich people richer. I know that seems perfectly reasonable w/ the greed is good GOP, but generally not so good w/ decent people.

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      I'm worried that the cut in FICA will open the door to rhetoric about alleged insolvency of SS, which will open the door to (more) benefit cuts.

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      Jack, I don't have issue with the near-term stimulative effect of a payroll tax holiday, the problem is what happens at the tail end of such a one year "holiday". On that component of the "deal" the problem is, as Ryan Grim over at the Huffington Post reported:

      "Once something like this goes into place, a year from now, when it expires, it'll be portrayed as a tax increase," said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). So in a body like Congress, precedents matter and this is setting a precedent. I think that certainly is going to create some problems down the road if it passes."

      Given that Congress, under Democratic control, can't gather itself to let tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans expire, members of both parties are convinced that letting the payroll tax rate revert back to its current spot will be near impossible.

      "There's always a tendency to continue those things... Once something comes in, it's very difficult to change it," said Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio.) He then volunteered, without prompting, that "It would be detrimental to the Social Security system, especially when it's in bad shape."

      HuffPost noted that some of his colleagues would likely treat the deprivation of Social Security funds as a benefit of such a circumstance rather than a drawback.

      "I suspect so, yes," agreed Voinovich.

      Republican Senators like Voinovich and Lamar Alexander says they only want to permanently extend lower payroll taxes if we cut Social Security over the long-term.

      Republicans have wanted to cut Social Security ever since it came into existence, and with this payroll tax holiday, they will finally have a wedge to accomplish their goal, promising lower taxes now in exchange for reduced benefits later.

      As Jed Lewison over at Daily Kos noted, it's true that Republicans wouldn't hold all the cards in such a debate. Democrats could point out that you can also lower payroll tax rates without undermining the Social Security system's fiscal health by replacing the lost revenues with the elimination of the cap on payroll tax contributions. Lifting the cap would be a good idea and it would make the system more progressive. And if Democrats were to make continuing the payroll tax holiday contingent on lifting the cap, they'd have a powerful and effective argument.

      But the problem is that it's a pipe dream to expect Democrats to make that argument without caving to the GOP's demands. All the proof you need of that is contained in the tax cut debate, where by President Obama's own admission, the GOP's strategy of hostage taking was effective. And that doesn't even take into account that next year, there will be a Republican House and smaller Democratic majority in the Senate.

      So while the payroll tax holiday is a good piece of stimulus in and of itself, it all but guarantees that one year from now, we're going to see yet another tax cut hostage crisis.

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        Mitchell, I think the problem with that kind of analysis is that it ultimately leads to the conclusion that we're simply screwed no matter what we do.

        With Republicans taking control of the House, I've assumed any kind of stimulus package was dead unless it is "paid for" by other spending cuts--which is somewhat counterproductive.

        At some point, I think it comes down to whether you believe in fiscal stimulus or not. If you do, the argument that we're "borrowing the money from China" (which is factually incorrect anyway) is largely irrelevant.

        I understand Paul Krugman's argument that there are better ways to spend stimulus money, but he hasn't suggested how those better ways get through Congress. I'm afraid I have to side with Obama when it comes to what's possible here.

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    The Bush tax cuts were passed the Senate using reconciliation needing only a simple majority. I have not heard anyone explain why the same process could not be used to pass the house bill cutting taxes on all income earners up to 250K?

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      From what I have read this is not a budgetary bill and reconciliation (which can only be used once per budget cycle).

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      Reconciliation can only be used when it is planned out in advance and cannot be used on bills that will increase the deficit. Just the rules. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reconciliation_%28United_States_Congress%29

      Has anyone noticed the overall progressive nature of what Obama negotiated? Can anyone imagine actually getting the Republicans in the Senate now or the Republican controlled House next year voting for such a large amount of stimulus other than this plan?


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    Hmm. Was it just two weeks ago the Democrats were decrying the non-extension of unemployment benefits as politics over families? Now the ones who will be preventing those benefits are the extreme-left Dems who would rather see the recession ratcheted up a few dozen notches than to compromise about letting sole-proprietors and other small businesses taxed at the individual rate keep money in the economy.

    It takes those uber-leftys like most of the Oregon delegation to make the most extreme-left President who has had a "My way or the Highway" attitude seem reasonable. I can see why you all must be so proud.

    Idealism over economics. Way to go.

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      Ken Ray- you are completely out of touch with reality. Obama makes even GOP Nixon and Ike look like screaming, extremist-left liberals, when it comes to economic policy.

      I believe your understanding of U.S. history was furnished to you by the Tea Party.

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        Case in pint, the 1972 GOP platform decried big business shipping jobs overseas as it is detrimental to US workers.

        Yes, that was the GOP platform.

        And now, Obama, in the vein of Bill Clinton, will sign a Korea "free-trade" agreement, which is in the same vein as NAFTA and CAFTA.

        But, in your mind, Obama, with the recent collaboration with GOP and with the example I've given, is "the most extreme-left president"?

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        You don't know anything about me, so judge lightly. I also know more about economics than those who obviously only read Cliff Notes on Keynes and stopped there. Confiscating wealth doesn't magically "multiply" it, for example.

        As to my knowledge of history, it is pretty good. But you sound like one of those libs that assumes that anyone who disagrees with you is ignorant or stupid. Maybe you don't feel this way, but that is the message your intolerance for opposing viewpoints comes across.

        I understand the typo. I won't judge you based on that.

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          Ken Ray- you called Obama "the most extreme-left president."

          To me, that statement has absolutely no basis in fact.

          So, if your knowledge of history is good, as you claim it is, please explain how Obama is "the most extreme-left president"?

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      Ken, I am not complaining about extending the UI portion of this deal. I find unacceptable is the over $75 billion dollar giveaway we have to borrow from China in order to pay for the cuts upper 5% which will have zero stimulative effect and will not produce any jobs; the reductions in where the estate tax would be otherwise; and more critically, the "temporary" aspect of the the proposed payroll tax "holiday". See my comment up-thread on that last one.

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    I had said back in '08 that the Dems would overplay their hand, mistaking an anti-Bush election for a long-lasting mandate. But even I am surprised how fast the hubristic wheels are coming off the liberal bandwagon.

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    Let's be honest about this. The House refused to vote on this before the election. And our four members "NO" is easy virtue, because they know that Pelosi is rightly going to tweek the Senate proposal and send it to a vote with passage by predominantly GOP votes in the House.(She said as much today.) After Jan. 1 she will have no power at all, and the Dems will be blamed for the tax increases that result, although short lived. From a strategy viewpoint the economic environment for a tax fairness debate will be much better the next election cycle. Kari, it is flat dishonest to say that President Obama ever "had" any of these four Congressional Reps. They vote as they please. And DeFazio voted against the stimulus package, the Financial Reg. package and host of other initiatives. He is more oppositional than cooperative. Definitely not a team player.

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      I'd ask you this question, Mr. Bill Ryan- would we be farther along toward economic recovery and realization of other liberal/progressive goals if we had Mr. DeFazio as president rather than the Republican Obama?

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    Addendum: None of our four Cong. Reps are going to go home for Christmas and face life without an income and eventual homelessness for them and their families because their unemployment benefits are gone. It is so easy to be pure.

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    Oh, and while I'm ranting, two other points. First, it's always harder to get things passed than it is to block things. Playing defense and hoping for no change is easy. Trying to cobble together coalitions is hard. Obama's biggest problem was always the purple Dems from ruby red districts.

    And two, Clinton didn't have to deal with de facto obstructionism the way Obama does in the Senate. That radically changes the character of negotiation.

    (And to tie it to Senator Merkley's petition--thank god someone's trying to address it!)

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    Jeff Alworth- why couldn't Obama have said he's willing to let all the tax cuts expire, as long as the GOP isn't willing to negotiate on just allowing those for over-$250K per year to expire?

    And then just call for a separate, stand-alone vote on extending unemployment (to everyone, incl. 99ers)?

    And not even enter into discussions about practically obliterating the inheritance tax and breaking down the wall between the general fund and SS?

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    Stephen, two reasons:

    1. Moderate Dems who want to extend the tax cuts to millionaires, and

    2. The filibuster.

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      So, Jeff, in that case, Obama should've said that he will not sign the bill that extends cuts to the $250K+.

      And, if the GOP filibusters the unemployment extension, Obama goes on TV and does a half an hour about homelessness.

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    Stephen, this kind of analysis is very persuasive to Democrats/liberals. There's a faith not only in the bully pulpit, but in Barack Obama's messianic ability to use it to sway votes.

    But this isn't an election.

    There are currently 42 Republicans in the Senate. Which two will be so swayed by Obama's public speech that they'll flip? And what will you do with the Ben Nelsons who may not want to cut taxes to millionaires?

    The bully pulpit has huge limitations. Dems seem not to get this.

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      Thanks, Jeff. Some actual factually based reasoning enters this discussion, rather than the usual knee jerk attacks on the president and his lack of ideological purity.

      One of the facts that isn't talked about here is the actual reality of throwing unemployed under the bus. How many here of the rock-throwers have spent the winter as a child or adult on the streets, or living in a car? I have. And I tell you those people will rightly blame the Dems for abandoning them because of their "principles".

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        Bill - How about the reality of throwing our children and grandchildren under the bus by adding another trillion to the deficit?

        There is plenty not to like in this legislation:

        1) It further destabilizes our Social Security system by decreasing payments to that system.

        2) It rewards inherited wealth by increasing the threshold on the estate tax.

        3) It keeps in place a tax cut on the wealthiest 2 percent that cost billions with no mechanism to pay for it.

        4) But the worst part about the legislation is that none of it is paid for. This bill adds another trillion to the national debt.

        I am neither a partisan nor an ideologue and there are plenty of non-partisan, non-ideological reasons to dislike this legislation. This bill demonstrates a couple of things that partisans should be aware of:

        1) Neither the President nor the GOP were listening to the American people when the people of this country made it clear in the last election that they would like to see reductions in government spending.

        2) Republicans appear to have sold the American people a bill of goods when they said that they care about cutting deficits. What they appear to be interested in, first and foremost, is an even greater transfer of wealth to the wealthy few regardless of what it does to the Federal budget.

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          Sal, you must be writing all this with an ironic chuckle, given the fact your precious Independent Party endorsed GOP candidates who are big proponents of the borrow and spend, tax-break-for-the -wealthy crowd.

          As for the unemployed and soon to be destitute, if you fall in that condition, you could care less about the deficit if immediate survival is your need. And frankly right now I care more about them, the passage of an essential START Treaty to limit nuclear arms and provide safety to the world, the passage of DADT, and the Dream Act. All of a sudden those things don't mean anything on this forum because of the outrage about wealthy people and their tax breaks.

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            Bill - The unemployment benefits that were being "held hostage" could have been paid in full with unspent stimulus money.

            The Independent Party didn't endorse ANY candidates in this election. Some Republicans and some Democrats were nominated by the Independent Party, that doesn't necessarily mean that I agreed with the results of some of those elections.

            Democracy is messy. We gave our people choices, and the candidates who made the most effort to win our party's nomination are generally the candidates that won. Candidates who didn't even try generally lost to none of the above.

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        The great Dennis Kucinich spent many a night with his family, living in an automobile.

        Think he'll vote in favor of this disaster?

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          Dennis is nice and comfortable now. And he has all those adoring followers, a big fat growing pension, great health care, and a presidential campaign every four years to look forward to where he be in the public eye and debate with the big boys.

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      Joe Scarborough, former GOP Congressperson, on his MSNBC show said that if Obama had gone to the court of public opinion about the unemployment extension then there'd be no way he could lose that fight with the GOP over an extension.

      But, Obama's way is to not even try to make the fight.

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    I still say let all the tax cuts expire. We will find ways to meet our needs. The rich and their party will never be satisfied. No one will get a job from letting the top 2% have this money and in 13 months the worker is even worse off than now. And under no circumstances give in on the payroll reduction or estate tax rates. The cuter this "deal" got, the worse it got. It's not about Obama, whether he can get elected, whether some folks are just too ideologically pure or stink---it's about a temporary tax cut which was supposed to bring jobs, didn't and now needs to expire. No deal.

    I want to thank DeFazio for doing what we expect of those we elect: if it is take it or leave @ Biden and it is that bad, then leave it. I think the whole stimulus effect and Sommers saying we would otherwise go into a recession (what is going on now?) laughable.

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    From the Register-Guard:

    "DeFazio, in a telephone interview with The Register- Guard, said he was just trying to help the president keep his campaign promise of ending tax cuts on those whose income exceeds $250,000.

    “It’s incredibly expensive; it’s $1 trillion of forgone income on the premise of rebuilding the economy and putting people back to work,” said DeFazio, who represents Oregon’s 4th District, which includes Eugene-Springfield.

    DeFazio scoffed at the threat from Republicans that they would block the extension of unemployment benefits if the Bush tax cuts weren’t extended for two years. “They’re going to cut off unemployment benefits before Christmas? That’s a big bluff. If you are going to cut off benefits, hey, make my day. We’ll savage you,” he said.

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    Call your senators now and ask them to join in with Sanders' fillibuster. Here's the number to call: 202-224-3121.

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    [Bill Clinton] would have focused his talking points on the personal, human impact of these unemployment benefits -- rather than talking antiseptically about dealmaking and political process.

    Amen, Kari. We all need to go back and read "Don't Think of an Elephant" again to remind ourselves how to win the hearts and minds of voters.

    Horse race messages make people's eyes glaze over and fail to get through the "why should I care?" filter. Too many smarty-pants people with good intentions fall into this trap.

    I hate seeing the right do better at messaging, when it's progressives who support the policies that will restore the middle class.

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    We shall see how the delagation actually votes on whatever comes forward. I for one would like to see them grow a spine and actually vote "NO" on the entire budget busting mess.

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    I thought that we all wanted to get rid of the filibuster? :-)

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    Over the past 40 years Congress was always able to pass extension of unemployment benefits when the unemployment rate was above 7.2 percent...2.4 points lower than it is today. Not once has a congress failed to do this in 40 years. Yet all of a sudden we're told if you don't put in tax cuts for top income earners we wont pass a unemployment benefit extension. Talk about kicking working families while they're down.

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      If the GOP is willing to throw overboard the 45 thousand Americans who die every year from no health insurance, whatever makes you think they care one whit about a few million unemployed?? As for messaging, when voters are scared about their own livelihoods they don't give fig about the expendable unemployed, unless they are one. I don't see any uprising at all on their behalf. The voters put this new crop of GOP clowns in power knowing full well what they were planning. The current GOP is not the same as even a decade or two ago. This bunch is a pack of barbarians. They only care about their rich benefactors.

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    'rich benefactors' - is that the majority of Americans that voted them into office and agree with their policies?

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      I'm talking about the rich and anonymous corporate donors who funded the anonymous Ad campaigns this last election. Koch Industries, British Petroleum. They are the ones who count to the GOP.

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    The part I loved the best is when the President admitted that the current tax structure would be better for the economy then a tax increase -- that part was totally AWESOME! The part that sucks the most however is that the entirety of this deal does nothing to address the deficit ... betrayal on both sides ...

    Hey, when are you going to run a story on how big a mistake it was to support the President and how you were all played?

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