Third Cave’s a Charm

Kudos to Ezra for admitting he was dead wrong last year when imagining the Republicans might allow a deal that would let Bush tax cuts lapse.

A year ago, I was less concerned about the Bush tax cuts. I assumed, as did many in Washington, that the Republicans’ antipathy to taxes was a negotiating stance. Eventually, we would strike a “grand bargain” that would reduce spending and raise revenue substantially. The past few months have proved me wrong.

But having recognized that the Republicans will not let those tax cuts expire, Ezra then imagines (apparently in an effort to spin this debt deal as less than catastrophic) that they will let the tax cuts expire in December 2012.

Democrats will have their turn. On Dec. 31, 2012, three weeks before the end of President Barack Obama’s current term in office, the Bush tax cuts expire. Income tax rates will return to their Clinton-era levels. That amounts to a $3.6 trillion tax increase over 10 years, three or four times the $800 billion to $1.2 trillion in revenue increases that Obama and Speaker John Boehner were kicking around. And all Democrats need to do to secure that deal is…nothing.

This scenario is the inverse of the current debt-ceiling debate, in which inaction will lead to an outcome — a government default — that Democrats can’t stomach and Republicans think they can. There is only one thing that could stand in the way of Democrats passing significant new revenues on the last day of 2012: the Obama administration.

Of course, the entire premise assumes that the tax cuts won’t already have been extended by then.

In a couple of months, after all, we’re going to see the next hostage crisis as Congress debates a continuing resolution to fund the government. There’ll be another one in 2012. And I’m sure the GOP will find another several opportunities to stage a hostage crisis.

And why not? Obama has proven, over and over, that he will not take on the hostage-takers. Instead, with every hostage-taking, he just hands over one more thing for the Republicans to take hostage. The Republicans are perfecting a strategy that gives them complete control of a government while controlling just one of two houses of Congress. And each time they stage a hostage taking, Democrats allow outcomes that make the economy worse, all in the name of saving the economy.

But even without another hostage-taking, Ezra’s take assumes that Obama would let the tax cuts expire, even while he admits that the Administration doesn’t want that to happen.

The White House’s strategy in the debt-ceiling negotiations has reflected its ambivalence, with Obama trying to extract either as much revenue as Republicans would allow or as little as Democrats would accept. Obama even offered Boehner a deal in which the Bush tax cuts would be extended right now, so Republicans wouldn’t have to fear a subsequent negotiation in which they lacked leverage. Boehner rejected that deal and, in doing, might have saved the safety net.

But the Obama administration doesn’t want to take its second chance. They argue that the economy will still be recovering in 2013, and so it’s not an ideal time for a large tax increase. True. But what happens in 2012 is not simply setting tax policy for 2013. It’s setting tax policy for decades to come.

Frankly, I agree with Ezra, that if these tax cuts don’t expire–if we don’t start making the rich pay their share to support this country–our country is sunk. I agree that we need to pressure the White House to get serious about revenue.

But think about how the Obama Administration is using this tax cut. He talked about it during the election, he has talked about it repeatedly since then. Yet every single time Obama has an opportunity to do something about it, he manages to cave.

It is serving the same function as abortion does for the Republicans: the promised policy used to get people to vote, even while delivering on that promise always remains in the future.

The problem is, as important as abortion is, having or not having choice won’t collapse the country. Obama’s refusal to do anything to tax the rich will.

27 replies
  1. P J Evans says:

    I’m ready to impeach him for incompetence. (I hope Harvard Law is ready to impeach him for making them look bad as a law school.)
    I’m not going to vote for him in the primaries, if he runs next year, and if he should make it to the general election, I’d probably vote for someone else, even if it wastes a vote (because the way things are going, voting will be so we look like we’re still a democracy).

  2. P J Evans says:

    BTW, over at the old place, cregan-the-troll is trying to find out if there’s been a commission like this before.
    – No, a commission like this before that actually did anything.
    – No, a commission like this before that actually did anything that had an economic impact.
    – No, a commission like this before that actually did anything that had an economic impact and was a budget, SS or deficit commission.
    (Keeps moving the goal posts. Doesn’t like the answers received. Signs of troll.)

  3. DWBartoo says:

    The death of a thousand caves?

    The word “cave” suggests a letting go, possibly reluctantly … and yet how may it be a “letting go” when it increasingly MUST be seen as the intended and deliberate action leading to a clearly desired outcome?

    Why is there ANY need to pretend that Obama might or would do anything differently?

    How may a choreographed kabuki, be seen as anything but a damnable fiction, a ploy designed to confuse “outside” observers into “believing” that “something” is “so”?

    Do we call the deliberate and agreed upon, in advance, “throwing” of a baseball game a “cave”?

    “Caving” suggests, if not an honorable, then a forced upon capitulation, a crying of “uncle!” in the school yard parlance of bullying …

    Here we have a very spoiled brat throwing himself on the ground, hitting himself repeatedly and piteously crying, “Stop!! I don’t want to do this … stop making me do this … I’m a good person and all you bad meanies are making me cry … oh, boo hoo, I don’t understand why.”

    Catching a breath …

    The spectacle continues, blubbering now, and very distraugt, “All my friends hate me and abuse me and should just shut the fuck up! I give them a drink and they say it’s a dirty, half-full cup … and I just want to be friends with that gang over there and the way everyone treats just isn’t fair …”

    But “caving” is the meme all of the time.


  4. P J Evans says:

    O is the one who picks up said screaming brat and gives them cake and ice cream to get them to stop screaming.
    So they’ll do it again, having learned that it comes with a reward.

  5. Ronald Bleier says:

    But think about how the Obama Administration is using this tax cut. He talked about it during the election, he has talked about it repeatedly since then. Yet every single time Obama has an opportunity to do something about it, he manages to cave.

    It is serving the same function as abortion does for the Republicans: the promised policy used to get people to vote, even while delivering on that promise always remains in the future.

    Thanks, Marcie:
    This comes so close to the reality as I see it: Obama is a Republican–not merely a Republican, an extremist right wing Republican, the silent or secret head of the Tea Party.
    He’s out to destroy the safety net, remove what’s left of the New Deal; drown govt in a bathtub, and unlike Grover Norquist,he’s in place to do it.

  6. Brian Silver says:

    Good call-out, Marcy. The Bush tax cuts were definitely part of the wheeling and dealing in Obama’s $4T big deal. I think the deal with Boehner did entail raising rates for the wealthy ($1M+ ?). And thus the deal encompassed the Bush cuts.

    Today McConnell conceded that the SuperCommittee would/could deal with reform of tax rates. If they did so, it would obviously entail addressing or amending the Bush cut expiration. Ezra should know this, but his column seemed to be oblivious of it.

  7. rosalind says:

    as President Obama has told the world that when faced with a hostage crisis he will not only negotiate with the hostage takers but pay out 10 times the ransom demanded, shouldn’t he – per his own national security policies – order himself into indefinite detention in order to Keep America Safe?

  8. rosalind says:

    (apropos of not much, but have we given Lukey Russert a moniker yet? with all his tweets & bleats and the D.C. establishment having annointed him the rising son seemed time. Tater Tot has got a ring…)

  9. Gitcheegumee says:


    I be flummoxed these halcyon days,dee dub.

    Posilutely flummoxed,I tell ya!

    (Think Geico,not Alley Oop. *G*)

  10. rg says:

    It would be interesting to be able to know what the “Community Organizer’s” strategy was to “negotiate” with Chicago’s power structure on behalf of the city’s minority poor. My guess is that it was a mantra of Jackson’s “Keep hope alive, keep hope alive, keep hope alive. And what good came of it; are the poor any the better for it; The organizer sure is.

  11. Gitcheegumee says:

    Ronald Bleier:

    Here is an excellent piece that serves as a useful reminder, and eloquent assessment of post “honeymoon” reality.

    Daily Kos: Three Cheers for American Plutocracy!…/-Three-Cheers-for-American-Plutocracy… – Cached

    Jun 14, 2011 – As many of us were aware, back in the 2008 presidential campaign Barack Obama’s biggest campaign contributor was the now infamous Wall Street…Goldman Sachs…

  12. Fractal says:

    It’s just infuriating that we have to sit still and watch the power structure destroy the economy for their personal political advantage. And that’s assuming they do raise the debt ceiling and don’t default in the next two weeks. Even in the UK, they can see the stupidity of what is happening this weekend in Washington (link in my name).

  13. Fractal says:

    Looking forward past the summer, a UK Guardian news analysis shows the entire global economy is at risk if Tea Party ideology prevails this weekend here in the U.S. (different link in my name):

    “[T]he big constraint on sales, recruitment and investment is lack of demand, now or in the future. And the deliberate cultivation of an atmosphere of austerity turns out, predictably, to have aggravated the recessionary tendencies that were already apparent.

    “Keynes talked about the importance of ‘animal spirits’ among the entrepreneurial class. But he also taught that the worst thing a government could do, when capitalist economies demonstrate their propensity to follow a boom with a bust, was to impose further downward pressure.

    “Developments in both the US and the eurozone do not present a pretty picture. The G20’s action in 2009 to ward off a 1930s-style Depression undoubtedly limited the damage. But the policy challenges facing finance ministers and central bank governors at the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund in September are formidable. And goodness knows what we will face if the Tea Party has its way this week.”

  14. klynn says:

    You have me thinking…

    Couching the three “cave-ins” as a response to a hostage taking and thus, showing O cannot take on the hostage takers…Did we not here from a famous leader:

    “8th November, 1985 : A letter of plea had arrived in Beirut, Lebanon from the hostages held in Lebanon. In the letter was text which pleaded for Reagan to negotiate to let the hostages go free. However, Reagan would not budge, saying “we” (America) do not negotiate with terrorists.”

    Perhaps this is the quote O should have invoked when he brought up Reagan in his speech the other night.

  15. orionatl says:

    i read clever little ezra and thought “with three weeks left”?

    then later i read that the white house or some wise spokesman had said the same thing that little ezra had written.

    either the w.h. was influenced by lil’ ezra


    lil’ ezra was influenced by the w.h.

    in this gigantic train wreck, figuring who influenced whom is as trivial as figuring out who was responsible for what happened in the fourth car back in the wreck.

    just a reminder:

    when you vote for a candidate who has zero experience governing, you are going to get a prez just like prez obama.

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