Cliff notes: Is George W. Bush smiling?
Oh, the ironies of politics. President Obama's fiscal cliff deal, which last night weathered the usual House Republican histrionics, is actually a win for George W. Bush.
Who could ever have imagined a situation where 64 percent of House Republicans would vote No on a fiscal deal that permanently locks in 82 percent of Bush's sweeping tax cuts? Who could ever have imagined a situation where virtually all House and Senate Democrats - hailing from the party that had denounced the Bush tax cuts for nearly a decade - would wind up voting to make most of his cuts permanent, thus fulfilling one of Bush's most cherished dreams? Who could ever have imagined that an Obama deal would prompt ex-Bush flak Ari Fleischer to declare, "As a Bush loyalist, it's fantastic that the Bush tax cuts, which now have to be seen inarguably as overwhelmingly for the middle class, are being made permanent"?
Granted, Bush's tax-cut victory needs to be viewed in context. Obama's Democratic allies deemed the deal sufficiently acceptable anyway, because (among other things) it raises taxes on Americans earning more than $400,000, it extends federal jobless benefits, it renews tax credits for child care, it extends tax credits for kids and parents who pay college tuition, and does the same for renewed energy production.
In exchange, Democrats agreed to encode most of the Bush tax cuts in perpetuity. Likewise, Obama. Even though the president campaigned in favor of ending the Bush cuts on upper-bracket Americans, he always insisted that average folks keep their cuts. That too was a political win for Bush; indeed, Bush and his congressional Republican allies, circa 2001-3, had ensured that win by agreeing to a 2012 expiration date. No politician would dare call for an expiration of middle-class tax cuts.
The thing is, most economists have long contended that the sweeping Bush cuts did virtually nothing to boost the economy; job creation was notoriously tepid during Bush's tenure. And the cuts took trillions out of the federal budget, spreading massive red ink on the ledger. This week's fiscal deal, by making permanent 82 percent of the Bush cuts, continues that pattern. As even Ari Flesicher acknowledged yesterday, "it's inarguable that (the perpetuation of most Bush cuts) adds $4 trillion to the federal debt."
Also, the sweeping Bush cuts have made it more difficult for Washington to finance crucial programs. Which is why Republicans sought the cuts in the first place - to starve the beast, as it were. That pattern has now been locked in. Yes, the richest Americans will be compelled to pony up more money, but it won't be nearly enough. Going forward, we'll still be way down on the revenue side - which likely means big spending cuts in programs that average folks depend on.
One might have assumed that House Republicans would cheer a fiscal deal that locks in most of the Bush tax cuts (and locks in Bush's lenient levies on dividends and capital gains). But no. Not this crowd.
Most House Republicans stayed in character last night, marinating in their absolutism. Of the 236 voting GOPers, 151 voted No, seeking to send America over the fiscal cliff in part because the deal didn't make permanent the Bush tax cuts for the rich as well. How predictably pitiful that, with respect to the Bush cuts, most House Republicans could not accept four-fifths of a loaf - all because they continue to deem it blasphemy that any American, under any circumstance, suffer even a teensy tax rise. (Paul Ryan voted Yes on the deal - and, sure enough, the absolutists are going ballistic. Tweet of the night, a true classic from Erick Erickson of redstate.com: "Thus ends the Paul Ryan 2016 Presidential Exploratory Committee.")
Indeed, 85 House Republicans did vote Yes - an historic occasion, because this was the first time in two decades that virtually any GOPer in the chamber had agreed to hike taxes on anyone. But they didn't vote Yes in order to lock in most of the Bush cuts and deliver a symbolic victory to their former president. They voted Yes only because they knew it would be political suicide to keep defending rich people; as one Capitol Hill Republican told the press, while insisting on anonymity, "If we went over the cliff, and (voters) were told that the reason (was) that Republicans were protecting millionaires, we're dead."
Hence the irony that Obama, against House Republican resistence, wound up delivering a win to Bush. And if you want to hear how Obama has stood up for Bush in another major policy realm, tune in here tomorrow.
Regarding my Monday post, about the disgraceful right-wing attacks on ailing Hillary Clinton: Kathleen Parker, the conservative columnist, nails it today.
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