It’s safe to say that no one on the Democratic side of the aisle took the news of the tax deal very well. Democrats in Congress took to the airwaves to blast Obama for reneging on his promise to end the signature Bush tax rates, such as Jim McDermott and Anthony Weiner:
“This is the president’s Gettysburg,” Rep. Jim McDermott, a leading progressive and a subcommittee chairman on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, told POLITICO Monday. Referring to Obama’s choice about whether to compromise or stand firm against Republicans on the question of higher taxes for the wealthy, the Washington Democrat said: “He’s going to have to decide whether he’s going to withstand Pickett’s charge … I worry.” …
Even Democratic leaders on the Hill are having a hard time swallowing the idea: When Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) relayed her view of the White House position on tax cuts to her fellow leaders on Sunday, it was roundly panned, according to sources familiar with the discussion.
The general sentiment, as described by one participant: “What the [heck]? Could we have a little fight before we cave? Why go right to surrender?”
Outspoken Democrat Anthony Weiner of New York compared it to “punting on 3rd down — it seems the president is not seeing the value of being on [the] offense.”
This morning, the White House did go on offense — to blame Pelosi, Weiner, McDermott, and the rest of the Democratic caucus for not taking care of business when they could. Jake Tapper reports the reaction from a “senior White House official” who said that Obama “wanted a fight” but that Congress went AWOL:
“We wanted a fight, the House didn’t throw a punch,” a senior White House official tells ABC News, pointing out that for months before the 2010 midterm elections, President Obama was making the case against the Bush tax cuts for wealthier Americans. “The House wouldn’t vote before the Senate, and the Senate was afraid they’d lose a vote on it.”
“It was like the Jets versus Sharks except there weren’t any Jets,” the official said. “Senator Schumer says he wants a fight? He couldn’t hold his caucus together.”
“This isn’t a debate in a lab somewhere,” the official continued. “People’s taxes were going to go up, and then we were going to have a Senate with a slimmer margin and House under Republican control.”
The White House official has a point, although he or she leaves out a lot of self-serving context. The White House didn’t exactly push for a vote on tax policy, either. They could have addressed this in early 2009, even making it part of the Porkulus plan, had they wanted to do so. Obama had a lot more political capital at that point, but instead the administration decided to tackle health care and global warming instead. That tied up Congress for the next nine months and fired up the opposition so much that hiking taxes became political suicide, even on the wealthiest earners (and rightly so during economic stagnation).
There weren’t any Jets in 2009 in the White House, in other words, and no sharks, either. Instead, Democrats had the Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, and now they’ve paid the price.
People have compared Obama to Jimmy Carter, and for good reason, but this parallels another modern one-term president. For the Left, the Bush tax cuts were the single biggest target in tax policy, the basis of their argument that Bush was nothing but a lackey for the rich and for corporate interests. Any progressive populist worth his salt opposed them and pledged to reverse those tax rates — as did Obama on a number of occasions. Similarly, conservatives oppose tax increases, and when George H. W. Bush caved to Democrats after telling voters to “read his lips” in pledging “no new taxes,” it undermined his standing with the base entirely. This is Obama’s “Read my lips” moment with the Left, and the war between them has just broken out.