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Obama Outmaneuvered in Tax Cut Battle

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

WASHINGTON - President Obama went before the White House press corps Tuesday, blaming the Republicans for boxing him into a very difficult position that forced him to cut a deal to extend the Bush tax cuts.


He betrayed the irritated tones and combative rhetoric of a sore loser who got the raw end of the deal that he wished he didn't have to make. He accused Republicans of engaging in hostage taking, and said they worshiped the "holy grail" of tax cuts for the rich.

The latter charge is pure demagoguery. Republicans, to quote the late tax-cut crusader Jack Kemp, "worship at the altar of economic growth" and lower tax rates for everyone. Like President Kennedy, who cut taxes across the board, they believe "a rising tide lifts all boats."

But it was the Democrats, not Republicans, who were responsible for the end-of-the-year, lame-duck bind that Obama found himself in, and Republicans were forced to play the restricted legislative hand they had been dealt by the party in power.

Nowadays it takes 60 votes to make controversial legislation the pending business in the Senate, where the rights of the minority are zealously protected and, yes, exploited by both parties when it serves their interests.

But with his party's congressional liberals, whom Obama called "sanctimonious," accusing him of caving on his campaign pledge to raise taxes on the rich, the president fell back on a lame excuse: I was outmaneuvered by the Republicans.

Legislative maneuvering is an art form that Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has mastered almost to perfection. It is quite remarkable that, with a little more than 40 GOP senators on his side of the aisle, he has managed to hold his party together through many difficult votes -- and attract some Democrats to his side, which isn't easy to do.


Liberals complained that Obama wouldn't have been put in this position if Democrats had acted on the tax extension earlier in the year. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid kept putting it off. Why? Tax-happy Democrats like Sen. Barbra Boxer of California and others, who were in tough re-election fights, begged him not to schedule a vote until after the election because they did not want to be seen voting to raise taxes on anyone. Reid complied and the result was a one-month deadline that gave the Republicans a strategic advantage and boxed in the president, forcing him to hold his nose and go for a quick compromise or else see taxes rise on every American.

So Republicans not only got a two-year extension of the Bush tax-rate cuts, instead of making them permanent as they wanted, but also something more.

Legislative statecraft is sort of like a chess game in which you have to think several moves ahead of your opponent, and the Republicans appear to have done that in this deal, which could give them a strategic advantage once again in the coming presidential election cycle.

Now, if the deal is approved, the Bush tax rates will expire at the end of 2012, a year when 23 Senate Democrats, many vulnerable to upsets, will be up for re-election. A number of them will not be eager to vote to raise taxes, especially in those states where Democrats got a drubbing in 2010.


With the Republicans soon in control of the House and in de facto control of the Senate, a well-timed vote just before the 2012 elections could result in making the tax cuts permanent, possibly with additional GOP tax cuts to boot. Will Obama, with his re-election on the line, dare to veto a bill that will effectively raise taxes on everyone? Unlikely.

Clearly, he has suffered significant collateral damage among his base in the party's dominant liberal wing since he gave away the Democrats' holy grail: raising taxes on the rich.

"Watching the tax-cut negotiation has been like watching a car crash in slow motion ... The president's commitment to bipartisanship should not mean leaving principles behind," Justin Ruben, executive director of the far left, said in a statement.

Labor unions are in rebellion, too. "This tax-cut deal rewards Republican obstructionism by giving the wealthy the tax breaks they demanded," said AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka.

You would think the labor leader would be cheering the one-year extension of unemployment benefits and 2 percent cut in the federal payroll taxes for workers, which would result in an extra $120 billion in their take-home pay next year, and would have its heaviest impact on low to middle-income Americans.


But no. "The gains for the middle-class and jobless workers in the deal come at too high a price," Trumka said in a statement.

In the real world outside of Washington, though, where an anemic economy makes for daily struggle, Democratic governors like Michigan's Jennifer Granholm and big-city mayors like Detroit's Dave Bing were endorsing the deal.

The latest count shows a growing number of Senate Democrats were getting behind it, too, making a threatened filibuster by Vermont socialist Bernie Sanders futile.

America's experiment in bigger government, higher spending and draconian tax rates is coming to an end.

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