WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration is making a preemptive move to change the script of the Bush tax cut debate after losing a months-long political standoff with congressional Republicans at the end of 2010.
The White House on Tuesday issued a report by the National Economic Council highlighting the benefits of Obama's position of continuing the cuts for those with annual incomes of less than $250,000. The release of the report was coupled with a conference call featuring Vice President Joseph Biden, in which he and other administration officials applied deep gravity and meaning to a vote that virtually everyone assumes will fail.
"I hope everyone understands the consequences of tomorrow's vote in the United States Senate," said Biden.
Coming one day before the Senate is set to hold procedural votes on the expiring Bush tax cuts, the call was a tactical effort to shape public perception on an issue that will dominate Congress and the campaign trail in the coming months. The White House wasn't going to let events and alarm force its hand again, as it did at the end of 2010.
"The president has obviously said that he would veto anything that extended tax cuts for millionaires and we don’t think that Republicans are going to want to see taxes go up on middle-class households," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest. “If there are Republicans who don’t think that they need to act now to provide certainty to those Americans who live in households making $250,000 a year, then I’d be happy to hear them explain why."
The statement from Earnest didn't exactly break new ground on procedural or policy fronts. But the timing was telling, at least with respect to the tactical decisions being made inside the West Wing. Only an unbalanced optimist anticipates progress on the tax cut front in the Senate on Wednesday. Holding a vote and ratcheting up its importance is the first step in laying the foundation for lame duck negotiations.
Capital Hill Democrats argue that they have some winning arguments to play this go-around. Public opinion data is squarely behind the idea of letting the tax cuts for the highest incomes expire at the end of the year. In addition, the package that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will put forward on Wednesday includes three provisions, dating back to the stimulus, that provide tax breaks for the middle class: a $2,500 credit for college tuition costs; an earned income tax credit, and an enhanced child tax credit.
With those provisions not included in the Republican proposal, as authored by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Democrats are poised to argue that the GOP plan includes a hike on middle-income earners.
Republicans, in turn, will continue to argue that by not extending the Bush tax cuts for the upper-income brackets, Democrats and Obama will be raising rates on job creators and small businesses. One top GOP aide also argued that because Democrats leave the issue of the estate tax unaddressed in their bill, they would facilitate a major increase on that front as well. Without any action, the estate tax will go from a 35 percent rate on assets over $5 million to a 55 percent rate on assets over $1 million. The Democratic Party position is to go back to 2009 levels, which was a 45 percent rate on assets over $3.5 million. But they want to address that outside of this bill.
Both bills would only extend their tax policies through 2013, in hopes that more comprehensive tax reform could be tackled by then.
Time will tell whose ammo proves better. But what seems abundantly clear is that tomorrow is the unofficial start of this debate, not the beginning. The procedural elements of what happens are still unclear. Democrats will likely offer Republicans a chance to have a straight-up vote on each party's bill. If that fails, they will likely ask GOP leadershipd not to filibuster and to allow the Reid bill to come to the floor for debate. They will then allow consideration of the Hatch bill as an amendment (which would require 60 votes to pass) before trying to move the Reid bill off the floor (which, likewise, would need 60 votes).
"We are discussing the threshold," is all Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would say at a media stakeout on Tuesday.
“I think we’re going to run into some real procedural challenges up on the Hill, but that’s another issue,” Biden said. “As usual, we’ll probably have a 60-vote threshold even to be able to get to it, but that’s being worked on now in the Senate.”
All of which is a long way of saying: don't expect new laws to be made on the Senate floor. Just theater, but an important opening act nonetheless.
Birth Certificate -- "Born In The USA"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/27/obama-birth-certificate-r_n_854248.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(April 27, 2011) --</strong></a> The White House <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2011/04/27/president-obamas-long-form-birth-certificate" target="_hplink">released</a> President Barack Obama's "long form" birth certificate, adding documentation to a longstanding discussion over his ability to serve as commander in chief. "We do not have time for this kind of silliness," Obama said. "We have better stuff to do. I have got better stuff to do. We have got big problems to solve." (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Osama Bin Laden Killed -- "Tonight, Tonight"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/01/osama-bin-laden-dead-killed_n_856091.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(May 1, 2011)</strong></a> -- In a televised address to the nation, Obama announces that Osama bin Laden is dead. His death was the result of a U.S. operation launched today in Abbottabad, Pakistan, against a compound where bin Laden was believed to be hiding. "[T]oday's achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people," Obama proclaimed. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House via Getty Images)
Debt Ceiling Deal -- "Gold On The Ceiling"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/02/obama-debt-ceiling-deal-jobs_n_916285.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(Aug. 2, 2011) --</strong></a> After the Senate passed a bill to raise the debt limit, Obama pleaded with Congress to shift their attention to jobs. "I will urge them to immediately take some steps -- bipartisan, common-sense steps -- that will make a difference; that will create a climate where businesses can hire, where folks have more money in their pockets to spend, where people who are out of work can find good jobs," he said. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)
Don't Ask Don't Tell -- "Don't Stop Believin'"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/20/barack-obama-dont-ask-dont-tell-repeal-statement_n_971662.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(Sept. 20, 2011) --</strong></a> As the ban on gays serving in the military came to an end, Obama hailed the fresh start, celebrating the fact that "patriotic Americans in uniform will no longer have to lie about who they are in order to serve the country they love." (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
Iraq War To End -- "Homeward Bound"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/21/obama-iraq-troop-withdrawal_n_1024108.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(Oct. 21, 2011) --</strong></a> Obama announced that all U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by 2011, fulfilling a promise that dated back to his campaign. "As a candidate for president, I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end," Obama said. "So today I can report that, as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year." (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Singing Al Green's "Let's Stay Together"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/20/obama-al-green-apollo-theater_n_1218070.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(Jan. 20, 2012) --</strong></a> During a fundraiser at Harlem's historic Apollo Theater, Obama delivered a memorable musical message to his donors. With Rev. Al Green in attendance, Obama sang part of Green's hit song "Let's Stay Together," drawing strong applause from the crowd.
Singing Robert Johnson's "Sweet Home Chicago"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/21/obama-sings-sweet-home-chicago_n_1292576.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(Feb. 21, 2012) --</strong></a> Days after his Al Green rendition, Obama flexed his vocal chords again with a hometown favorite. The East Room of the White House had its blues fix filled when the president started swinging "Sweet Home Chicago."
Gay Marriage -- "Can't Fight This Feeling"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/09/obama-gay-marriage_n_1503245.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(May 9, 2012) --</strong></a> In a sit-down interview with ABC's Robin Roberts, Obama explained his evolution on the issue, affirming his support for gay marriage. "[A]t a certain point I've just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married," he said.
Immigration -- "With Arms Wide Open"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/15/obama-immigration-order-deportation-dream-act_n_1599658.html " target="_hplink"><strong>(June 15, 2012) --</strong></a> The Obama administration addressed America's immigration issue, announcing that it will halt deportations and grant work permits to young individuals eligible for Dream-Act benefits. "They pledge allegiance to our flag," Obama said. "They are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper."(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Health Care Reform -- "Beautiful Day"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/28/supreme-court-health-care-decision_n_1585131.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(June 28, 2012) --</strong></a> After weeks of speculation that Obama's signature piece of legislation could be overturned, the Supreme Court ruled that the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate is constitutional. "It should be pretty clear that I didn't do this because it's good politics," <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/28/obama-health-care-ruling_n_1632953.html" target="_hplink">Obama said</a>. "I did it because it's good for the country." (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)