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Saving Face on the Bush Tax Cuts: How Everyone Can Claim Victory

12/02/2012 10:21 pm ET | Updated Feb 01, 2013

Politics demands that the resolution of the fiscal cliff, the current DC-created crisis, includes a face-saving solution for everyone. That is how the 2011 Republican-created "debt-ceiling crisis" ended.

The Republicans have lost the public. They lost the election. The American people overwhelmingly support raising tax rates on incomes over $250,000.

They are also out of arguments. The Congressional Budget Office says that raising tax rates on the wealthy will have negligible effect on GDP. The Congressional Research Service issued a report -- that Republicans then suppressed -- indicating that tax cuts for the wealthy do not correlate with economic growth.

Now comes the hardest part. How can the Bush Tax Cuts ("BTCs") be extended for the middle class and yet enable every Member of Congress to vote for what they believe (or, at least, say they believe), save face and claim victory as Paul Ryan (R-WI) did after the debt-ceiling crisis?

The current choices do not work. The Senate bill will never be voted upon by the House because House Republicans will not be given a chance to vote for tax cuts for the wealthy. The House bill will never be voted upon by the Senate because Senate Democrats will have to vote against all the tax cuts to prevent the wealthy from receiving further cuts.

The policy and political arguments have been made, ad nauseam. Now comes the time to switch the argument to process that will enable everyone to save face.

To do this, the administration should propose that each bracket receive a separate up-or-down vote in both houses of Congress. The president should drum up support for this "up-or-down" vote on the stump. It would be an additional "offer" that Republicans will look frightened, childish and unpatriotic to reject.

House Republicans and Democrats can vote for each bill that extends the BTCs for the middle class bracket-by-bracket, and the majority House Republicans can vote in a separate bill to extend them for the wealthy as well.

Over in the Senate Democrats and Republicans can vote to extend the BTCs for the middle class bracket-by-bracket. Then, they may either vote against extending the tax cuts for the wealthy; or, if Joe Lieberman decides he can feather his nest better in retirement, and a few Democrats join him, the Senate can decide they want to vote to extend the tax cuts for the wealthy.

It does not matter. The president will sign each bill that extends the BTCs for the middle class. He will veto the bill that extends those cuts for the wealthy as well.

To Grover Norquist's delight, all Republicans will have affirmatively voted to cut taxes for everyone. All Democrats will have voted to extend the BTCs for the middle class, and most will have voted against extending those cuts for the wealthy.

Yes, of course, all the middle class brackets could be put into one bill and the upper brackets into a separate bill. But, it is more symmetric to do each bracket separately. Consider the attraction of saying that "I voted four times to reduce middle class taxes" as an extra benefit to this scheme.

One more point. The debt ceiling. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH)'s threat that there is a price for raising the debt ceiling is -- and this is meant without hyperbole -- borderline treason, and explicit blackmail. For anyone who doubted the message in 2011 (when their posture cost U.S. taxpayers $19 billion), it exposes the Republicans for what they really are -- ready, again, to tank the country to serve their political needs. Moreover, because the 14th Amendment commands that the country pay its debts, it is not even clear that a "debt-ceiling" passes constitutional muster.

We do not bargain with hostage-takers and blackmailers abroad. We certainly should not bargain with them at home. Since the current law was invented by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and agreed to by the House Republicans, part of this face-saving deal is for that agreement to be extended through the Obama presidency employing the Republican face-saving solution for the debt ceiling.

Failing that, the president should announce immediately thereafter that he is compelled by the 14th Amendment to pay the country's debts. If Congress appropriates and taxes, and if there is a constitutional imperative to pay the country's bills, how can there possibly be a debt-ceiling?

The old adage that "politics abhors a vacuum" will mean that the more of a political vacuum the Republican Congress creates the more power the executive branch will assume.

An up-or-down-vote on each tax bracket in separate bills provides the face-saving solution for the fiscal cliff.

Then, let us see what additional crisis the Republicans will create for the American people they claim they want to serve.