Democratic Liberals: Put Up a Fight or Stay Quiet

If they don’t like the deal Obama cut with Republicans, they should fight to kill it.

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It is put up or shut up time for Democratic liberals. If you don’t like the terms of the deal that Barack Obama has cut with congressional Republicans, by all means fight to kill it. Otherwise, shut up.

For there is another name for Obama’s compromise. This is a HUGE stimulus bill. Are the Democrats willing to give up a $700 billion juicing of the economy, and the jobs it might create, and run in an anemic economy in 2012?

Yes, huge portions of this meal are sour. As expected, the Republicans insisted on giving the indecently rich an unnecessary tax break, adding billions to the federal debt. For good measure, by insisting on lowering the estate tax for the merely multi-millionaires, the Republicans added to their ongoing declaration that there is no need for an American middle class - that the country will get by just fine divided into wealthy and ain’t.

[Read 10 Things You Didn't Know About the Bush Tax Cuts.]

If these changes are truly unpalatable, then now is the time for Democratic senators to howl like banshees, and for Democratic members of the House of Representatives to adopt the scorched earth tactics of Newt Gingrich, Mitch McConnell, and Jon Kyl, and become the Party of No.

It is hard to imagine a more defining and clear cut issue than tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires. Only something like a Republican repeal of the Civil Rights Act, or Medicare, or passage of a constitutional amendment banning first trimester abortions, would paint the difference between the two parties more clearly. By threatening to plunge the economy back into crisis and deprive the unemployed of benefits, all to benefit a relatively small number of wealthy individuals, the Republicans have revealed themselves, yet again.

If it’s too much to swallow, then the Democrats in Congress should fight. But they need to recognize that they are risking the benefits of a $700 billion stimulus bill, and the jobs it might create.

[Read more about unemployment.]

The Republicans were willing to tell two million out-of-work Americans, in the weeks before Christmas, that they were cutting off their unemployment benefits. Do the Democrats have that kind of cruel political boldness?

Rather than compromise, the Republicans were willing to let all the Bush tax cuts expire. In doing so, they accepted the risk that a prolonged government stalemate, with higher taxes, could cut off the fragile recovery of the US economy. Are Democrats brave enough to take that risk?

And then there is the economic fuel that the Democrats could lose. In addition to the Bush middle class tax cuts and the continuation of unemployment benefits, the 2 percent cut in the payroll tax is a $120 million juicing of the economy, giving $1,400 or so back to each middle-class family next year. There is another $150 billion tax break that would permit companies of all sizes to write off the value of capital investments. The college tuition tax credit will get an extension, for 8 million students, as will the child tax credit for families, and the earned income tax credit for low income workers.

More even than a victory on taxes, Democratic candidates up and down the ticket need a strong economy to run on in 2012. Can the Democrats afford to bluff?

[Read more about the 2012 presidential election.]

And here is a final question to consider: what are the prospects of winning? Two Democratic attempts to pare back the tax breaks for millionaires got just 53 votes in the Senate – significantly short of the 60 needed to break a Republican filibuster. The Democrats might hold things up, for a while, but do they have a coherent strategy to get to 60 votes?

If congressional Democrats want to delay this deal, ratchet up the pressure on the Republicans, and maybe win a few more concessions (like a higher estate tax) by stalling until Christmas Eve, God bless ‘em. They will be showing backbone and commitment.

But sometimes you don’t have the cards. You save your play for a better deal. And recognize that $700 billion is a lot of stimulus and, hopefully for us all, a lot of jobs.

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