Democrats cannot get around Bush-era tax cuts

Tyler Kingkade

Despite a long list on the Democrats’ agenda in the lame duck session of Congress, the party cannot find consensus to pass a compromise by President Barack Obama and Republican leaders on the Bush tax cuts.

The compromise reached early last week would temporarily extend all of the 2001- and 2003-era Bush tax cuts, which passed on a 50-50 vote, broken only by Vice President Dick Cheney, and provide greater cuts for the higher income brackets. It also includes a reinstating of the estate tax, near 33 percent, after dropping progressively from above 50 percent down to zero percent in 2010.

More Democratic measures included in the compromise would include Obama’s stimulus tax cuts for the next two years, a payroll tax cut, extended unemployment benefits, child tax credit, a college-tuition aid program and the earned-income tax credit for low-income Americans. Economists consider many of these measures back-door stimulus.

Some Republicans, like Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., are raising concerns about the cost, said to be near $984 billion in terms of lost revenue to the Treasury. Although, Republicans spent weeks blocking an extension of unemployment benefits, three times more stimulative than tax cuts for the wealthy, because they demanded unemployment insurance be paid for.

Thursday in a closed-door meeting of the Democratic caucus of the House, reporters said they could hear chants of “Just say No” and disgruntled, but unnamed, Congressmen explicitly complained about what they say is Obama caving to Republicans, instead of fighting. Although dollar for dollar, the compromise features $3 of Democratic measures for every $1 Republicans fought for.

Democrats do not want to extend the tax cuts for the wealthy, pointing to the fact the Bush tax cuts were just as significant in adding to the deficit as the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and continue to be a burden in lost revenue.

The House did pass a bill almost unanimously to extend tax cuts for families earning $250,000 or less, a proposal Obama and Democrats had long sought, but Republican Senators vowed not to let it come to a vote. Now Democrats are claiming they may not let the current compromise come to a vote in the House, despite Republican leaders like Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Sen. Mitch McDonnell, R-Ky., saying the compromise is a good package.

Democrats still want to vote on measures such as the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, the DREAM Act and the 9/11 workers health bill, but cannot get them to a vote until the Bush tax cuts are settled.

The 9/11 Health Bill was blocked Thursday in a procedural vote in the Senate to end debate; the vote was along party lines with all Republicans voting against it. The bill is to provide medical care to first responders at the World Trade Center attack in 2001 who became ill as a result of breathing in toxic fumes, dust and smoke. The House had trouble passing a version before the elections.