The Democrats May Have Lost Now, But They Can Win Later (Unless They Also Lose Later)

08/01/2011 01:48 pm ET | Updated Oct 01, 2011

Ezra Klein says not to worry -- even though Obama and the Democrats have lost the battle over the debt ceiling, they are going to win in the end! Here's how:

On Dec. 31, 2012, three weeks before the end of President Barack Obama's current term in office, the Bush tax cuts expire. Income tax rates will return to their Clinton-era levels. That amounts to a $3.6 trillion tax increase over 10 years, three or four times the $800 billion to $1.2 trillion in revenue increases that Obama and Speaker John Boehner were kicking around. And all Democrats need to do to secure that deal is...nothing.

Right. It's totally simple. Everyone just has to chill out and wait until December of 2012, and the scales will be even. Per Klein, the only thing "that could stand in the way of Democrats passing significant new revenues on the last day of 2012" is "the Obama administration" itself.

So the pony in the Bad Loser Debt Deal (should the Obama administration choose to accept it) is that the tax cuts will expire at the exact same moment they would have expired if there wasn't a Bad Loser Debt Deal.

O-kay! Except I've seen this movie before, and I know how it ends.

Let's cast our minds back to September 24, 2010. It was scant weeks before the midterm elections. The fate of the Bush-era tax cuts were up for debate, and "politically savvy senators" wanted to take up the matter. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) was among the coterie of Democrats who wanted to push the matter forward, and secure a vote that they could hang around the necks of their Republican counterparts. But it didn't happen. Why was that? Here's Greg Sargent:

According to a very plugged in Senate aide, Senators debating the issue were very aware that the polling was on their side. Yet, paradoxically, this ended up tipping the balance against holding the vote. Senate Dems felt they were alreadly winning on the issue, and in the end they thought a vote risked upsetting a dynamic that was already playing in their favor.

"People felt like, Why rock the boat on a good situation?" the aide tells me. "People weren't sure how how having a vote would effect that dynamic. We would have lost Democrats on certain aspects of the vote. Who knows if the media would cover that as Democrats being splintered? In a way the good polling gave people faith that we dont need to do anything on the issue because we're already winning."

A strangely similar message was delivered to Christina Bellantoni and Brian Beutler at the time:

The aide said it's already a winning message without a vote since Obama and Democrats have framed the debate as the Republicans being for the rich and Democrats wanting to help the middle class. Others have made similar arguments, but several lawmakers have said they think a vote is the only way to score a political victory. The senior aide doesn't think so.

"We have a winning message now, why muddy it up with a failed vote, because, of course, Republicans are going to block everything," the aide said.

See, it was good enough that the Democrats wanted to help the middle class. So good that they didn't feel they actually had to take an action to try to help the middle class. The thinking was: Why fight a battle when it's already a "winning issue?"

And so, they punted the ball. And if my memory serves me correctly, the GOP ran it all the way back to the end zone that November.

So, Klein is correct that one possible impediment to the "let's just wait until after the election to do nothing" plan is the Obama administration itself -- after all, when the matter did come up in the lame duck session, Obama capitulated on eliminating the tax cuts on the wealthy because the GOP held a gun to an extension of unemployment benefits.

But another possible outcome is that the Democrats wait until December, do nothing, watch as the tax cuts go away, celebrate for another three weeks, and then President Mitt Romney and the GOP-controlled legislature will enact the "Romney tax cuts."

I'm probably being unnecessarily gloomy though! Everyone knows that ending the Bush-era tax cuts is such a "winning issue."

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