Members of Congress have now returned home to try to save their own jobs, never mind helping the millions of Americans who have lost theirs. "When we come back this fall, the election will be over," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told the Washington Post. "I hope that it also means that Republicans will finally be able to put the American people ahead of their short-term political interests and ambitions."
Reid's comments to the Post are one of the most outrageous examples of double-speak in recent political history. Reid wasn't really talking about Republicans. He was talking about members of his own party. What Reid and his counterpart in the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are hoping is that Democrats who lose their seats in the election will be willing to pass legislation in a lame duck session that they know the voting public doesn't support. In Reid's logic, they will be free to vote their liberal ideology. And it won't matter because they will have already lost their jobs. But it is precisely this kind of arrogance that has Democrats in such poor shape heading into the mid-term elections.
Reid and Pelosi failed to pass the single most important piece of economic legislation on the table, namely extending tax cuts that are due to expire at the end of the year. What that will mean is a big tax increase come January, and not just increases in the overall tax rate for the top earners.
Failure to extend the Bush tax cuts will also mean a reinstatement of the marriage penalty that makes some married couples pay higher taxes filing jointly than they would if they were single and filing individual returns. It will mean cutting in half the child tax credit from $1,000 to $500. It will increase tax rates on dividends from a maximum of 15 percent to 39.6 percent, which affects seniors who depend on dividends to supplement their Social Security and pensions. And it will raise the top capital gains tax rate from 15 percent to 20 percent, stifling business investment.
Of course, Reid blames Republicans for not passing a tax bill, claiming that they were simply opposed to raising taxes on small businesses and families earning more than $250,000 a year. But Reid is wrong. There was actually bipartisan support for the Republican position. Enough Democrats were willing to join Republicans on an across-the-board extension of the Bush tax cuts that it made the Reid-Pelosi position of raising taxes on some higher earners untenable, so no tax bill moved forward.
Most voters are sophisticated enough to know that politicians don't always believe everything they say during election season. They hire pollsters to take the pulse of the electorate and fashion their positions based on what is popular and, therefore, likely to keep them in office. But for most politicians, the process is about tweaking their positions: emphasizing one issue that may be more popular with the public rather than another that may be dearer to the heart of the elected official. But voters don't expect that their representatives will turn from Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde, taking positions at total odds with what they've stood for in the past and that helped them get elected in the first place.
But that is exactly what Reid seems to be counting on in a lame duck session. He hopes that a group of Democrats from conservative-leaning districts who have just lost their seats will vote the straight Democratic party line because they have nothing more to lose. And with a Democrat in the White House who has shown he doesn't have much interest in what the American people want either, whatever Congress passes will likely be signed into law.
It's a truly frightening scenario: a lame duck Democratic Congress passing tax hikes and new spending bills that the president will gladly sign -- the voters be damned.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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