Senate tax deal vote wasn't even close
Okay, this was sort of embarrassing for the tax agreement critics. The Senate's final vote was 83-15. That's the kind of margin you rack up for recognition of National Girl Scout Day. And it suggests that hardliners on both sides weren't able to convince their colleagues that a vote in favor of raising taxes (e.g. a no vote) was defensible. In the end, only a handful of Republicans -- Jim DeMint, Jeff Sessions, John Ensign, Tom Coburn and George Vionovich -- voted against the measure. Considering one of these is retiring and another may well need to retire, that's not much of a showing for the purist camp.
You want winners here? Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who brokered an excellent deal; Reaganomics; employers; unemployed Americans; and, yes, the president. He showed that when all other options are eliminated, he will chose the right course.
The loser: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Good luck to her trying to change a comma in this bill. Eighty-three senators, including such ultra-liberals as Sen. Barbara Boxer (D- Cal.) voted for it, and it's still not good enough for Pelosi? Hmm. Don't think so.
Not surprisingly, McConnell issued a statement praising the results:
Today a wide bipartisan majority in the Senate has shown their commitment to the economic security of millions of American families and hundreds of thousands of small businesses across the country by protecting them from a job-killing tax hike at the beginning of the year. We now urge the House leadership to bring this bipartisan agreement to a vote without political games or partisan changes designed only to block this bill's passage in the House. If the House Democratic Leadership decides to make partisan changes, they will ensure that every American taxpayer will see a job-killing tax hike on January 1st.
In other words, the House better not mess with the Senate's handiwork.
As for Pelosi, one Capitol Hill insider offered this take: "She is a pretty shrewd operator. She is showing liberals why they need her -- she is the only one who can and will stand up for the left, even at the expense of her own president." That, of course, is a recipe for Pelosi's survival, but not for the liberal agenda.
My own take matches that of Keith Hennessey, a conservative economist and former advisor to George W. Bush. Hennessey writes:
Given a Democratic President, this is the best possible deal that could be reasonably expected. For the next two years, through the remainder of President Obama's first/only term, tax rates won't go up on anyone except dead people. (OK, actually their heirs.) That is a total and complete policy win.
With almost no political effort and very little public discussion, capital tax rates aren't going up. I had expected Congressional Republicans to get two years on all the individual rates but was nervous about the capital tax rates. That is a slightly surprising and complete policy win.
The estate & gift tax deal ends up at the Kyl/Lincoln compromise levels, as most anyone could have guessed for a while. While this isn't a complete victory, it's darn good.
The stupid Making Work Pay credit, which the President mislabeled as a tax cut, is now a true payroll tax cut. That's a marginal improvement.
Unlike many Congressional Republicans, I support extending extended unemployment insurance benefits when the unemployment rate is this high. My back-of-the-envelope suggests that, at a 9.8% rate, between four and nine people who would like a job but cannot find one are getting more generous UI benefits for each person who is getting those same benefits and choosing not to take a job. I'm OK with that ratio.
Unlike sports, politics offer no complete victories. But this is as close to one as conservatives will get so long as Obama is president. They should savor it while it lasts.
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