Read a Pacific Northwest, liberal perspective on world, national, and local politics. From majestic Redmond, Washington - the Northwest Progressive Institute Advocate.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Unprincipled Obama caves to Republican demands to extend Bush's giveaway to rich

Pundits and talking heads can now rejoice: As they breathlessly predicted, Barack Obama has caved to Republican demands to extend Bush's unaffordable tax cuts (including the tax cuts for the wealthy), vindicating every skeptic and every critic in the progressive movement who has characterized him as a spineless executive:
President Obama proposed a compromise on the thorny political issue of tax cuts on Monday, describing a tentative agreement that would extend all of the George W. Bush-era reductions set to expire the end of this year and continue unemployment benefits for 13 months.

In a televised statement, Obama announced what he called "a framework for a bipartisan agreement" that would temporarily extend the tax cuts for the middle class and for the rich alike. The tentative agreement reached Monday likely means that taxes will not increase on Jan. 1 as originally scheduled.
As McClatchy's Steven Thomma and David Lightman explain, the "compromise" announced by Obama is really a one-sided deal that he struck with the Republicans, where they get everything they want in return for promising to support aid to the jobless... which they should have been either forced into supporting or voting against anyway. Obama and his team didn't bother including congressional Democrats in the negotiations, because apparently they just arrogantly expect everybody to fall in line.

The word disgusted doesn't even begin to describe our reaction to this capitulation. This isn't leadership. This isn't the responsible governance we thought we voted for in 2008. And this certainly isn't change we can believe in.

This is giving in to the status quo. This is cowardice. This is surrender. This deal, this proposal, represents everything Barack Obama ran against in 2008.

In acceding to Republican demands to keep all George W. Bush's unaffordable tax cuts in place, Barack Obama has proved himself to be no leader, but rather to be just another spineless politician who doesn't walk his talk.

Remember this?
[W]hen it comes to the economy – when it comes to the central issue of this election – the plain truth is that John McCain has stood with this President every step of the way. Voting for the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy that he once opposed. Voting for the Bush budgets that spent us into debt. Calling for less regulation twenty-one times just this year. Those are the facts.

And now, after twenty-one months and three debates, Senator McCain still has not been able to tell the American people a single major thing he'd do differently from George Bush when it comes to the economy. Senator McCain says that we can't spend the next four years waiting for our luck to change, but you understand that the biggest gamble we can take is embracing the same old Bush-McCain policies that have failed us for the last eight years.
Emphasis is mine.

That's from the stump speech Barack Obama delivered in Canton, Ohio, on October 27th, 2008. If "embracing the same old Bush-McCain policies that have failed us" is indeed the disastrous course of action that Candidate Obama said it was, why is President Obama making this deal? Why is he reneging on his own beliefs?

And (to use a Barackism)... make no mistake, that's exactly what he is doing. He is embracing an extension of the Bush tax cuts, while foolishly trying to reconcile his new stance with his previous position.

He might as well pretend that he was never against extending tax cuts for the wealthy, so he can sound like the Republican he's morphing into.

At this point, Obama's promises are nothing more than empty rhetoric.
I have no doubt that everyone will find something in this compromise that they don’t like. In fact, there are things in here that I don’t like — namely the extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and the wealthiest estates. But these tax cuts will expire in two years. And I’m confident that as we make tough choices about bringing our deficit down, as I engage in a conversation with the American people about the hard choices we’re going to have to make to secure our future and our children’s future and our grandchildren’s future, it will become apparent that we cannot afford to extend those tax cuts any longer.
Rarely have I heard so much nonsense uttered in less than thirty seconds by somebody that I voted for. I'm used to hearing disingenuous sound bites and speeches from Republicans. I never thought I'd hear anything so hollow from somebody calling himself a Democrat.

How can he declare, with a straight face, that we cannot afford to extend the Bush tax cuts any longer while announcing that he will sign legislation to extend them!?

Either Barack Obama really believes what he is saying, which would mean he's naive, or he doesn't, which would mean that he's being dishonest. Either way, I'm sorry to have to admit that I have misjudged him. I figured he and his team would evaluate their options and realize that capitulation is the worst course of action they could take. Paul Krugman explained the situation well yesterday:
Republicans want to make those tax cuts permanent. They might agree to a two or three-year extension — but only because they believe that this would set up the conditions for a permanent extension later. And they may well be right: if tax-cut blackmail works now, why shouldn’t it work again later?
The Bush tax cuts were supposed to expire at the beginning of 2011. That date is now being pushed forward. In two years, the Republicans will simply demand that it be pushed forward again. And they'll win, again.

Because if they're good at anything, it's blackmailing Democrats.

They can now proudly tell their base that they've bested Obama, despite not having control of either house of Congress. I've said this before: They act from a position of strength even when they're out of power. Obama acts from a position of weakness even though he's supposed to be the Commander-in-Chief.

The hard choice... the tough choice... the courageous choice... would be to let all the tax cuts expire. The responsible thing to do would be to put our common wealth first, and stop buying into wrongheaded right wing ideas about economic freedom, which got us into the recession we're in.

Fortunately, not all Democrats appear willing to fall into line. Representative Peter Welch of Virginia is already circulating a letter urging colleagues to reject the deal, while Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont is vowing to do what he can to sink the proposal in the Senate. Unusually, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid did not immediately react to Obama's announcement by chiming in with their agreement. Aides for both have said they each plan to discuss the matter within their caucuses.

We at NPI, on the other hand, have no doubts whatsoever about our position. We urge Democrats in Congress to reject this deal. Allowing all of the tax cuts to expire would be a better outcome than extending them. Our common wealth needs the money. If we're ever going to get out of debt, then we need to stop pretending that public services don't cost anything. Because they do. There is no free lunch.

We don't have a future as a country if we keep financing tax cuts — especially for millionaires and billionaires — with money borrowed from China.

Like many unprincipled Democrats before him, Barack Obama has bought into the right wing myth that taxes are a burden, a necessary evil. In reality, taxes aren't a necessary evil. They're just necessary. Federal taxes can be thought of as our membership dues to America. As George Lakoff wrote in Whose Freedom?
Since the days of the Commonwealths of Virginia and Massachusetts, it has been part of the genius of America to put together the common wealth for the common good to provide an infrastructure that everyone needs and can use to achieve his or her individual goals. That's what taxes are about, and without them we would not have that infrastructure: highways, the Internet, public education, scientific research, the banking and court systems, the stock market, public buildings, levees to hold back floodwaters. Without such an infrastructure, America would break down, no business could flourish, and there would be little or no individual succeess. Without the commonwealth — government for our common good — there would be no America.
We call on our Democratic congressional delegation, and every Democrat in America who professes to believe in progressive values, to oppose this deal and vote it down. It's disastrously bad policy and disastrously bad politics.


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