07/11/2007 09:41 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Donnie, These Men Are Cowards

"Donnie," sighs Walter Sobchak to the Big Lebowski, "These men are cowards."

Words to remember when watching the political system these days. Take, as just today's example, the Associated Press's new report about how Montana Sen. Max Baucus (D) is using his position as the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee to block a proposal to permanently protect middle-class taxpayers from a massive tax increase. Reading this story makes you realize that it was no coincidence that The Onion in 2001 ran a now-famous satire piece authored by a fictional Baucus entitled "I'm Such a Shitty Senator" and featuring a fantasy of Max lamenting "Christ, what a hack I am." Yes, Max, you really are.

Here's the AP's excerpt:

"House Democrats' promise to permanently protect millions of middle-class families from a mostly unknown tax increase is faltering before it's even unveiled...[House Democrats] would like to rewrite the AMT to once-and-for-all prevent it from ensnaring about 20 million additional and unsuspecting middle-class taxpayers...The problem is that Rangel's and Neal's plan is a nonstarter in the Senate where the tax-writing Finance Committee's chairman, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., is up for re-election next year...Baucus has shown no interest in a Rangel-Neal proposal to pay for protecting middle-class voters from an AMT increase by instead imposing a new 4 percent or so surcharge on incomes above $500,000 a year. That would effectively raise the marginal tax rate on those with half-million-dollar incomes back to 39 percent, where it was in 2000...Many Democrats, including party leaders, appear comfortable with Baucus' temporary fix rather than forcing a politically risky vote to raise taxes."

Washington is indeed a screwed up place, utterly divorced from the reality the rest of the country faces. But this is just about the craziest thing I've seen in a long time. Somehow, inside the Beltway it is considered "politically risky" to even consider a proposal that permanently protects tens of millions of middle-class taxpayers and is paid for by merely returning the tax rates of the tiny handful of Americans who make $500,000 a year to Clinton-era levels. The fact that Democratic leaders think it is politically safe and LESS risky to refuse to permanently address this imminent middle-class tax hike is an even more sad commentary on how incredibly out of touch some of our "representatives" really are with the majority of Americans.

This is all made even more insane considering both the increasing political impotence of the GOP's tax arguments in the Rocky Mountain West, and Baucus's position representing one of the lowest income states in the country. I don't know off the top of my head the exact number of people in Montana who make over $500,000 a year -- but if I had to guess, I'd say it's extremely small, perhaps under 1,000 total people. The fact that he is afraid to permanently protect middle-class taxpayers as the senator from Montana shows just how bought-and-paid for American politics truly is. To put it into Montana terms, this is a senator who is now on record refusing to protect the vast majority of his constituents for fear of making the folks at the Yellowstone Club angry.

Here's the deal, folks: A Senate Finance Committee chairman that refuses to permanently prevent a massive, regressive tax increase on middle-class families from occurring -- and actually goes out of his way to stop that permanent fix -- is effectively endorsing the massive, regressive tax increase in question. That's not an interpretation -- that's just a fact. While Baucus may worry about the GOP making the absurd charge of "tax raiser" if he supports the Rangel plan to protect the majority of American taxpayers, he should quake in fear at the idea of the GOP making him American history's poster boy for tax increases if he continues blocking a permanent solution to this problem.

Walter Sobchak is correct. These professional politicians in the Senate club, these Wise Old Men of Washington -- yes, Donnie, it's true: These men are cowards.

Cross-posted at Working Assets