Politico: Say, that tax vote in House was big win for ... Obama?

Their headline is accurate enough — “Barack Obama makes the sale.”  Obama did put his prestige on the line to twist arms in his own party, and had his efforts failed, the President’s influence would have been seriously diminished.  Neither side would have bothered to negotiate with the White House, at least not seriously, if Obama couldn’t deliver the vote.

But whose policy was Obama selling?

Democrats are about to surrender the House. Republicans are pinching themselves for getting a tasty tax deal with an estate-tax cherry on top. And liberals say President Barack Obama is the biggest sell-out since Bob Dylan went electric.

Yet for all that drama, President Barack Obama closed the most impressive sales job of his presidency a few minutes before the clock struck midnight on Thursday –winning House approval of a broadly popular tax-cut and unemployment extension opposed by the extremes of both parties.

If the past two years has been spent ramming though Obama’s ambitious and often unpopular policy agenda, whatever the cost, the past two weeks has been an exercise in salesmanship and compromise – some would say capitulation — unlike anything he’s pulled off as president.

“He’s done a damn good job selling, as good as anything he’s ever sold,” said Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), with a chuckle, a few hours before the measure headed to Obama’s desk after passing by a 277-to-148 margin.

Well, it’s the product, not the sales pitch, that actually matters.  And what mattered to Americans in the midterm elections was a Congress that quit taking more and more money out of their pockets instead of curtailing spending.  The omnibus spending bill died for the same reason, which was that accountability returned with a vengeance in November, and those who are left on Capitol Hill know that the safety of incumbency has evaporated, hopefully for good.

The Democrats voted for Obama’s deal, but Obama’s deal consisted of endorsing the tax rates proposed by George W. Bush in toto. Not just the income tax rates, either, but also the capital-gains tax rates that Obama insisted on raising during the 2008 campaign to either 20% or 28%.  In the end, those tax rates got more votes last night in a Democratic-controlled House (277) than they did in the GOP-controlled House in 2001 (230), and more Democrats voted to extend them than Republicans, 139-138.

If that’s a victory for Obama, may the next two years be filled with such victories.