What’s Wrong With the New Tax Law? Lack of Leadership

17 Dec

Well, it’s all over but the signin’. The Senate and House have both passed the odious tax capitulation bill. As passage became more evidently inevitable, I’ve heard more voices from the left saying “Don’t beat up Obama, this was the best we could do!” A fairly common theme is a false dichotomy over the unemployment benefits vs. billionaire tax cuts provisions: “Do you hate the rich more than you love the poor?” That’s not the point.

Maybe this bill really is the best we could do. We’ll never know. I swallowed a deeply flawed health care bill because of the many truly good things it accomplishes. Some real progress is better than no action at all. But that battle was (painfully) drawn out and all the issues were debated at length. As I posted last week, this tax mess is nothing more than giving in to the bullies. If there had been real debate that involved both sides of this argument from the beginning, I might be able to accept the results. There wasn’t, and the blame for that goes to President Obama and Senator Reid for a failure in leadership.

Remember, the President struck this deal in a discussion that involved only Seanate Republicans. His own party was left out of the discussion and then handed a rancid compromise with a casual “best we can do, sorry.” That isn’t leadership in any form. The lame excuses for this pitiful approach demonstrate a series of leadership how-not-to’s:

  1. We had to extend unemployment (and this was the only way to do it). Don’t get me wrong, I’m very glad that unemployment benefits were extended. But every time the Republicans have tried to hold benefits hostage, they’ve been forced to cave because their position was so untenable (even for them). Instead of using that precedent to hold a firm line in negotiation, the President gave up his best bargaining chip before the negotiating started.
  2. Both sides got something! Really? The majority of Americans got a deal they demonstrably could have achieved anyway (see above), extended middle-class tax cuts, and a payroll tax deal that is unsustainable and gives the right a chance to paint Obama into a corner again in the next election year. The right-wing hypocrites and elitists got two of their sacred cows: a ridiculously watered down estate tax and the perpetuation of high-income tax cuts that do nothing for the economy and increase the deficit. Wow — what a great deal.
  3. We were running out of time. This is the clearest lack of leadership. These tax cuts were set to expire December 31, 2010. Any third grader could point out how fast that date was coming. Dealing with the tax cuts could have happened any time this year. (Maybe before the disastrous election as a way to prove what mattered to the Republicans?) Instead, Obama and Reid waited until the 11th hour to deal with a major, contentious issue. Then they ceded all the negotiating ground before the debate began.

I’m willing to believe that there’s a universe in which I would swallow this bitter pill and call it good medicine. We need to protect the victims of the Bush economy, the working poor, and the shrinking middle class. Without an honest debate and a demonstrated give and take, however, I’m left saying “Did we have to pay this much for that gain?” instead of “This was the best we could do to get what we had to have.” That’s a very disappointing feeling and it arises solely from the procrastination and capitulation. That’s not the change I believed in.

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