The deal on taxes, redux

Steve Benen wraps up the late-breaking reactions to the tax deal, most surprisingly Sen. Mary Landrieu's vigorous opposition:

It seemed at least plausible to me that we'd see some Kabuki theater when it came to congressional Democrats' reaction to the tax plan agreement. Perhaps they'd feign outrage, knowing that if Dems publicly expressed strong support, Republicans would automatically balk at the deal. After all, we've seen this before -- if Democrats approve of a proposal, the GOP assumes there's something wrong with it.

At this point, however, I think it's fair it's fair to say the Dems' outrage is genuine. â¦

A New York Times report noted a rough head-count, and said only "about a dozen" Senate Dems have voiced support for the package, while "about 30" are firmly opposed, leaving "16 or so undecided."

And that's just the Senate. The outrage among House Democrats was at least as intense yesterday, if not more so.

What of Republicans? Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters yesterday that the "vast majority" of his caucus would support the deal, but it's worth noting that some high-profile, right-wing leaders were as incensed yesterday as liberals.â¦

As for the larger legislative dynamic, the prospects for quick passage, clearing time for the remaining issues of the lame-duck session, are effectively zero. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he considers the tax deal "only a framework," and expects members to "do some more work on it." â¦

So a few hours ago, I gave a few reasons to favor this deal, and while the basic economic argument for the framework seems to hang together, it seems to have undermined the larger benefit I saw: that it'd let other urgent issues move to a vote in the lame duck. Debate on this framework will like stretch into next week, after which the session will end. The President seems to have cut a deal only with Mitch McConnell, not with workable majorities in both houses (let alone a Senate supermajority). So instead of opening up space for Congress to take on new issues, cutting this deal now has sucked all the oxygen out of the lame duck session. If everyone opposes this framework, why not take it up in the new year, which would have let other issues come to the floor now? It may be good policy, and better policy can't come in the short stretch of time available.

The White House screwed up. Saying so is not ideological purism. It's pragmatism. At his press conference yesterday, the President made a grand defense of compromise and pragmatism, making points that I've often made to friends dispirited about the weaknesses of the legislation we've gotten in the last couple years. It's important to start somewhere, the bills passed by Congress have to be able to get 60 votes in a bitterly divided Senate, and most importantly they can be improved in years to come.

But that doesn't really work here. If the President had negotiated a deal that could get the votes and move quickly, it might well have been the most effective quick stimulus available, and it would've given a chance to move the rest of the President's agenda. If that were true, this would be a pragmatic deal, and the President would be right.

But that didn't happen. The President's deal fails to either express a progressive vision of the tax code that lets Democrats distinguish themselves from Republicans in the 2012 elections or to move the tax issue off the table in time to move his broader agenda. The first goal would be good for purists, too, but it is primarily pragmatic. The second is purely pragmatic, and if this deal serves neither goal, it cannot be defended as pragmatism.


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"At his press conference yesterday, the President made a grand defense of compromise and pragmatism"

If he put half as much effort into advancing a democratic agenda as he does into defending his endless capitulations, we might have a president we could be proud of.