Thursday, December 9, 2010

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell What Barack Obama Got in Trade for Tax Cuts

"Obama sold out the Dems," is the view I'm hearing on the tax cut compromise from some quarters. But if Obama did sell out, I wonder how much he got in return. Because if you are going to sell out, you should at least get a good price.

Democrats including the President have been saying they would go to the wall on not extending tax cuts to upper income taxpayers. The game changer that seems to have forced the compromise was Senate Republicans saying they would hold everything else up until they got the tax cuts they wanted too.

That threatened to stall the middle class tax cuts that the Democrats did want and the budget that Democrats have been working on all year. But it also threatened to derail some other things Democrats want:

DADT - repeal of don't ask don't tell to allow gays to serve openly in the military

DREAM - pathway to legal residency for children of illegal immigrants who grow up in the U.S.

START - ratification of a new strategic arms treaty with Russia

Presumably House and Senate Democrats have the votes to pass these before the Congress adjourns for Christmas, so long as Senate Republican let the measures come up for vote. Democrats won't have the votes in the House when the new Congress is seated in January. So if Democrats don't get these votes for Christmas, they won't get them.

Passage of none of those issues has been directly tied to the tax cut compromise, but is it too cynical to wonder what the private deal is? My guess is that President Obama will get DADT, START with reservations, and no DREAM. But that's just a guess. Maybe it will be START and DREAM but no DADT. Or DADT and DREAM but no START.

How this will work: The New England Republicans in the Senate will peel off and vote for the stuff on President Obama's Christmas list (hint: it's all about Susan Collins), Fox and friends will call them RINOs (Republicans in Name Only), New Republican House Speaker John Boehner will crow about how his taking charge of the House in January will close that door (but only after the horses are out of the barn).

Right now Nancy Pelosi has the veto, the tax cut deal comes down to what she'll let go to a floor vote in the House. Yes, it could all fall apart and she could block the tax cut vote (she passed the middle class tax cut version she wants, so she is covered). And the left wing may find 40 Democratic Senators willing to take up the filibuster for the next 2 years in the Senate. Meanwhile, by coming out strongly in favor of the deal, President Obama has positioned himself so that he doesn’t have to take the blame for that (and would get no credit for it either).

We may get a real-time demonstration of the sell-out theory if Nancy Pelosi and her House troops go rogue and won't pass the tax cut compromise before the lame duck session comes to an end. Then we'll get to see in real time how much worse a deal Obama can get from John Boehner’s new Republican majority in the House.

Bottom line: The Republicans are going to look mighty foolish if they can't get the tax cut passed even after Barack Obama has signed onto the deal. How do you explain to some rich old white guy on his third wife and fourth illegal alien housekeeper that you held up his tax cut because of DADT or DREAM?

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