This has been really hard. As an early Obama supporter,Obama’s election was the high point of my political life and I had unrealistically high expectations. I’ve come down to earth.
Up until the tax cut compromise, I did not share the disillusionment of some liberal/progressives with Obama. He has an impressive record: the stimulus package which kept us from falling into an economic abyss; health care; financial regulations; the rescue of the auto industry and much more for which the President has not gotten anywhere near the credit he deserves. For a list of the President’s impressive list of a accomplishments see WHAT THE FUCK HAS OBAMA DONE SO FAR?
But I thought that letting the Bush tax cuts on high earners expire was an iron-clad promise. Okay, I understand that if nothing was done, the expiration of unemployment benefits and the expiration of tax cuts for the working poor would result in real hardship for struggling families. For those in the lowest tax bracket, income taxes would increase from 10 to 15%. The President could not let that happen.
Considering the cards he was holding, the deal was a lot better than most of us expected. I’ve never bought the argument that the President is a poor negotiator. (Read Jonathan Alters’ The Promise on the tough negotiating stand the President took during the bailout of the auto industry.)
Ironically there are more folks on the right who understand what President Obama managed to accomplish than on the left. From Charles Krauthammer:
President Obama won the great tax-cut showdown of 2010 - and House Democrats don't have a clue that he did.
In the deal struck last week, the president negotiated the biggest stimulus in American history, larger than his $814 billion 2009 stimulus package. It will pump a trillion borrowed Chinese dollars into the U.S. economy over the next two years - which just happen to be the two years of the run-up to the next presidential election. This is a defeat?
If Obama had asked for a second stimulus directly, he would have been laughed out of town. Stimulus I was so reviled that the Democrats banished the word from their lexicon throughout the 2010 campaign. And yet, despite a very weak post-election hand, Obama got the Republicans to offer to increase spending and cut taxes by $990 billion over two years - $630 billion of it above and beyond extension of the Bush tax cuts.
No mean achievement.
Krauthammer may be on to something. In a sense we have a second stimulus bill-–not the most efficient way to stimulate the economy but a stimulus bill nonetheless.
If I had had a vote in congress, I would have tried to improve the deal, but I would have voted for it in the end rather than let those unemployment benefits expire.
But why were we in this predicament? Why did the Democrats wait until after the disastrous mid-terms to tackle this? The White House claims it tried to deal with tax issue before the mid-terms. From The Hill:
The White House said Wednesday that Capitol Hill Democrats are partly to blame for the tax-cut deal they have criticized the president for negotiating....
... White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer said President Obama wanted Congress to extend the tax cuts, but there was no consensus on how to do so in the Democratic caucus.
"He and the White House, frankly, urged the House and Senate to hold votes on this before the election," Pfeiffer said on the liberal Bill Press radio show. "But they didn't do that, in part because there's not unanimity in the Democratic Caucus on this."
The President put pressure on legislators to take tough votes on health care, financial regulation, and the stimulus. The capacity for tough votes seem to have been exhausted. Reid and Pelosi were both apparently dead set against taking measures they thought would jeopardize their re-election. I blame the congressional Democrats more than the President for not acting before the mid-terms when they had the votes. Robert Reich puts it best:
That Democrats have allowed themselves to get into this fix is a testament to either their timidity, obtuseness, or dependence on the campaign contributions of those at the top.
I am also really uneasy about the cut in the payroll tax and the long term implications for the solvency of social security. From Robert Reich again:
The only practical effect of adding $858 billion to the deficit will be to put more pressure on Democrats to reduce non-defense spending of all sorts, including Social Security and Medicare, as well as education and infrastructure. .
It is nothing short of Ronald Reagan's (and David Stockman's) notorious "starve the beast" strategy.
So am I upset about the tax cuts for the rich? Yes.
Am I worried about the threat to social security? Yes.
Am I angry with the Democrats for failing to deal with this issue when they had the votes? Yes.
Am I angry with all those Democratic voters who did not bother to vote in November? Yes.
Am I ready to pull the Obama /Biden sticker off our car? Not yet.