I don't think I've ever been too angry to blog. When President Obama took office and filled his White House economic team with the same guys who brought us financial deregulation and the Great Recession, I typed away. When Obama's Justice Department refused to even investigate Bush and Cheney for their self-confessed war crimes of torturing prisoners, I blogged on. When Obama refused to campaign for a public option in the health care legislation, when he doubled down on the war in Afghanistan, when he didn't lift a finger for the Employee Free Choice Act, when he continued the NAFTA-style trade policies he campaigned against, it was all blog, blog, yap, yap on my end.
But watching Obama's preemptive surrender to Republicans on extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy made me afraid I'd break the keyboard. What makes this sellout different than the rest is that it's not just bad policy, it's bad politics.
So, Republicans said they would block everything that came up in the Senate unless the rich got their tax cuts extended. Oooh, I'm really scared. How easy it would have been to expose them for what they're doing--essentially holding the American people hostage until we pay ransom money to the rich. Congressional Democrats started on that line of attack. They put forward bills that would extend tax cuts for the middle class but let those for the rich expire. Meanwhile, in typical fashion, Obama did not lift a finger to influence the fight going on in Congress. Before that fight even got started, we were hearing in the news media almost daily that a deal was going to be struck to extend the tax cuts.
What should have happened: With the Republicans demanding money for their wealthy clients while holding a gun to the head of the middle class and Democrats standing strong in Congress, the news media should have been full for days and days of discussion on the differences between the Democratic and Republican positions. There is probably no better issue out there to expose the GOP for what they are--shills for big money. Republicans had staked everything on an indefensible position ("We will kill all of you unless you throw more cash to the rich!"). With pressure, which requires the White House weighing in and prolonged national media attention, eventually enough Senate Republicans would have peeled away for Democrats to pass the middle class tax cuts only, and we would have won. Heck it wasn't long ago that even John Boehner was saying that he would vote for the middle class tax cuts if the Democrats did not also offer them for the wealthy. In the worst case scenario, the deadlock would have remained into January and all of the tax cuts would have expired. And voila! Democrats would have an unbeatable political issue going into 2012: "Republicans voted to raise everybody's taxes. Their only care in the world was serving the rich."
What actually happened: Instead, Obama broadcasted such weakness and willingness to "negotiate" so far in advance on this issue that Republicans were emboldened. So much so that Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell was comfortable scribbling his ransom note. So Obama and the Republicans agreed to a deal--a two-year extension of all of the Bush tax cuts (and additional cuts to the estate tax beyond even those of the Bush years...huh?!) in exchange for extending long-term unemployment benefits for one year and a one-year payroll tax reduction that would cut the amount contributed to Social Security from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent. Doesn't sound like much of a deal to me.
A glimmer of hope: Somebody forgot to tell Congressional Democrats that it was time to cave. There are now petitions going around progressive websites trying to rally Democratic opposition to the Obama-GOP deal. So far, it's working. There are reports of "triple-digit" Democratic opposition in the House and several Senate Dems have spoken out strongly against the deal. Bernie Sanders even promises to filibuster the deal as it stands.
What happens next depends on how much Democratic opposition there is to Obama's deal with the hostage-takers. If the deal ends up passing with a unified block of Republicans and a few crossover Dems to get the majority, there will be new calls to challenge the president in the Democratic primary. And rightly so.