Democrats in the Senate are considering allowing a vote on extending all of the Bush tax cuts in an effort to win Republican support to extend only the middle-class rates, leadership aides said on Wednesday. Multiple polling memos are circulating on the Hill in an effort to persuade skeptical Democrats facing close races that extending the cuts for the middle class, while allowing rates to rise on the wealthy, is a political winner.
Democrats are concerned that by holding merely a vote on extending tax cuts for those making $250,000 or less, conservative Democrats and Republicans would say they opposed the extension because it would raise taxes during rough economic times. But by allowing a vote on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) plan to extend all the tax cuts, moderate Republicans and Democrats would be given cover. They could tell constituents they voted to extend all of the tax cuts, but the effort failed. The only choice left was to extend the middle-class tax cuts or let them all expire.
Two leadership aides HuffPost spoke to thought the plan had a less than 50 percent chance of winning Republicans over. It's a difficult issue for Democrats and those who are running close races have urged the party not to take up the vote before the election. The fear is that Republicans will find a small-businessman -- it only takes one -- and sit him before a camera, fretting that tax hikes will make it harder for him to hire people.
Even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, running a tight race in Nevada, avoided saying at his press briefing Tuesday that he supports allowing the tax cuts for the wealthy to expire, answering in a round-about way. "Do you support President Obama's tax plan personally, and would you vote for increasing taxes on families making over $250,000 a year?" Reid was asked.
"We're going to have a procedure during this period of time," Reid said. "I've worked with Senator McConnell to come up with something reasonable that we can move forward on these tax issues. And I'm happy to do that. We have -- it appears, at this stage, we have two issues. One is taking care of the middle class and the other is taking care of the millionaires. It's pretty easy to understand where I am on that."
The reporter followed up to ask what specifically he supported. "I support the $250,000. I've said so many times," he said.
By allowing a vote on all of the tax cuts, Democrats hope to cut through the reluctance to raise taxes on the wealthy. Democratic consultants argue that Republicans who vote against extending the tax cuts could be successfully accused of "holding the middle class hostage" -- a condemnation introduced Friday by President Obama at his press briefing.
"The president strikes a strongly responsive chord with the public when he says that
securing the middle-class tax cuts should not be held hostage to partisan wrangling about
what to do with earners in the top income rate," writes pollster Geoff Garin in a memo obtained by HuffPost that is circulating among Democrats on the Hill. "A decision by Republicans to block action on the middle-class tax cuts as a tactic to get their way on the tax cuts for those at the very top would be a untenable position for the GOP, especially given that voters already view it as a party that cares more about the wealthy than it does about the needs and struggles of the middle class."
Democrats are still divided over how to move forward and no consensus emerged after a party-wide meeting of senators over lunch Tuesday, though there was strong support for voting on extending the middle-class tax cuts before the election in November, aides said. A minority wanted a vote on extending the tax cuts for everyone making a million or less and others want no vote at all until after the election.
"Everybody's got a different pollster that's telling them different things," said one top Democratic aide.
McConnell spokesman Don Stewart noted that the only tax-cut bill introduced so far is McConnell's. Democrats, he said, are reluctant to put their name on any bill that raises taxes on anyone. "There is a growing number of Dems who just don't want to deal with this," Stewart said, citing Joe Manchin's recent opposition to the president's plan. Manchin is among several incumbents and challengers facing election in November to support extending all the tax cuts.
On Tuesday night, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) made the case for moving forward with a vote on extending the middle-class cuts and allowing those for the wealthy to expire, backed up by polling presented by GQR's Stan Greenberg. But on Wednesday morning, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said he was "prepared to discuss alternatives so we can move forward," referring to extending all of the tax cuts.
A second polling memo, circulating on the Hill in conjunction with the White House push, cites internal polling to make the case that extending the middle-class tax cuts is the right move politically.
"The president's recent proposal to extend tax cuts for the middle class, while letting the Bush tax cuts expire for the wealthy, is a smart political move for a number of reasons: 1) it enjoys rising public support; 2) it protects against the loss of swing independents; 3) it allows Democrats to drive a contrast with the GOP; and 4) it allows Democrats to address voters' overlapping economic concerns," offers the memo, which was obtained by HuffPost and written by John Anzalone and Mark Keida of Anzalone Liszt Research.
"Recent internal polling conducted by GQR shows independents favoring the Democratic position on taxes by a 53% to 38% margin. Recent battleground polling conducted by Anzalone Liszt Research shows 40% to 50% of voters siding with the president's position, compared to about one-third for the GOP position," offers the memo, arguing that "the president's plan helps protect against the exodus of swing independents to the Republican Party this cycle."
The Anzalone researchers find solid support for the plan to extend the middle-class tax cuts: "A majority (56%) opposes extending tax cuts for the top 2% of Americans (36% support this) according to a recent CBS poll. This includes a plurality of Republicans (48% to 46%) who believe we should let tax cuts expire for the rich. When asked specifically about the plan to extend tax cuts for the middle class, pluralities support the president's plan. The most recent USA Today/Gallup poll from late August finds 44% support the president's plan, compared to 37% who want to extend all taxes and 15% who want to let all taxes expire. This compares to older polls showing a deficit."
Garin cites polling showing that when the tax cuts are described in terms of priorities -- extending the tax cuts versus investing in jobs or reducing the deficit -- support for letting them expire at 60 percent and above among all voters, and higher among independents and Democrats. (Even 55% of Republicans support letting tax cuts for the wealthy expire in order to invest the money in incentives for business hiring.)
When the tax cuts are not viewed through the prism of competing priorities, however, extending them becomes more popular. Fifty-three percent of all voters supported extending all the Bush tax cuts for two years, when asked the question in isolation.
"Whatever disagreements there might be about the top income rate, Americans want the
middle-class tax cuts made permanent. President Obama's argument that we should get
that job done now is politically and substantively compelling, and it gives Democrats a
chance to play offense rather than defense. As John Boehner apparently has recognized,
holding the middle-class tax cuts hostage to tax cuts for those at the top is a position the
Republicans simply cannot sustain for long," writes Garin.
If everything collapses and nothing gets done, leadership aides in both parties think 2011 may see a debate on comprehensive tax reform, as the deficit commission recommendations, estate tax expiration, Bush tax cuts, alternative minimum tax and a variety of corporate tax and investment credits will all need to be dealt with. (Unless Congress rams it all through during the lame-duck session.)
White House talking points, which were passed on to HuffPost, echo the strategy of painting Republicans, and McConnell in particular, as favoring the wealthy at the expense of the deficit.
Talking Points: Republicans Aren¹t Serious About the Deficit
· Today¹s Washington Post provides further evidence that the Republican Party, after turning a record surplus under President Clinton into record deficits, still cannot be trusted to come up with a serious solution to control spending and reduce the nation¹s deficit. Instead, the only thing they're willing to offer are the same failed economic policies that created the mess we're in.
· Outlining Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell¹s tax plan, the paper finds that his call to permanently extend the Bush tax cuts for America¹s millionaires and billionaires would nearly double the projected deficit by adding $4 trillion to it over the next decade. And they're pretending that they would pay for it through a projected spending freeze, that fails to mention what they would freeze or cut, and that would only save $300 billion over that same period of time.
· Senator McConnell's apparent solution to our economic challenges is to go back to the same economic policies that created the mess that has weakened the economy and left middle class families hurting: tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires who aren't asking for one. But during these challenging economic times, we simply can't afford to borrow another $700 billion over the next decade to give an average tax cut of $100,000 to Americans making over $1 million per year.
· Looking at a plan similar to Senator McConnell's, the nonpartisan CBO found that it would force the American people to borrow an additional $3.9 trillion over the next decade, while increasing payments on the national debt by $950 billion. Those numbers have a projected deficit impact that's four times greater than health care reform and the stimulus package combined two proposals the Republican Party fought strongly against because of the supposed long-term damage they would cause to the deficit.
· Unfortunately, this lack of seriousness shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. If the Republican Party has been clear about anything over the past 19 months, it's that they're far more interested in political games and standing up for big special interests than offering serious solutions to our nation's problems.
· Despite all of their bluster about deficits and out of control spending, it's clear that the Republican Party hasn't changed and still has no viable plan to fix either problem. Senator McConnell's tax plan would only increase our nation's deficit and do absolutely nothing to grow our economy, put people back to work and strengthen America¹s middle class. Instead, it would take us back to the same exact failed economic policies that created the mess we¹re in: cut taxes for millionaires and billionaires; cut rules for the special interests and big corporations and cut the middle class loose to fend for itself.
· Are these really the people we want to put in charge of our economy?