POLITICS
11/15/2010 04:42 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Progressive Lawmakers Want To Make GOP 'Put Up Or Shut Up' On Bush Tax Cuts

A coalition of progressive lawmakers, labor unions, and soon-to-be-former members of Congress are demanding that the Democratic Party hold an up or down vote on a tax cut package that extends rates for the middle class while letting those for the wealthy expire.

In an interview with the Huffington Post on Monday, Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy (D-Ohio), a freshmen member of Congress who was defeated in her re-election bid, said the time had come to "draw a line in the sand" with respect to the Bush tax cuts.

One vote was needed, said the Ohio Democrat, who would, ostensibly, get to cast that vote before she leaves office. The House should use its current majority to pass permanent relief to the middle class while letting the rates for income over $250,000-a-year go back to pre-Bush levels. That would pass the burden to the Senate, at which point Republicans will have to "put up or shut up."

"You were talking about fiscal responsibility," said Kilroy. "The fiscally responsible thing to do is to allow these tax cuts for the top earners to expire... I think we have to, as Democrats fight for policies that affect and improve the lives of the vast majority of people in this country. That is to give the working class people these tax breaks. But also, the Democratic Party has to establish itself as being fiscally responsible and to challenge the republicans. They campaigned on that. They need to work with the Democrats in Congress and with the White House to be fiscally responsible and let those tax breaks expire."

"I think the path forward legislatively is for the House to essentially draw a line in the sand," she added. "Then challenge the Senate to do the same."

Kilroy isn't alone among Democrats demanding that the party commit to letting the high-end Bush tax cuts expire. Even as the White House is signaling its willingness to cut a deal extending the top brackets for an additional few years, progressive lawmakers and the AFL-CIO have begun imploring the party to partake in a veritable game of chicken. Make Republicans vote against a package that included just tax cuts for the middle class as the deadline for all rates to be reverted closes in.

"It is critical that we pass President Obama' s middle-class tax proposal without providing an even greater lift for the wealthiest Americans who don't need it," Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Lynn Woolsey (D-Cali.), the two co-chairs of the House Progressive Caucus, wrote in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Cali.) on Monday.

"[I]t makes little sense for us to add $700 billion to our national debt just to extend tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans, who are simply going to save their money instead of putting it back into our economy," Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) told the Columbus Post Dispatch over the weekend. "I will look at all proposals on the table, but my top priority is to provide tax relief to the middle class."

The dynamics, as more than a few observers have noted, have begun resembling those that dominated the health care reform debate, when the progressive community demanded votes on its priorities (the public option), regardless of the possibility of passage. As such, it seems like wishful thinking to see the party pursuing such a path with respect to tax cut policy. Why, after all, would the White House risk having nothing pass only to see all rates go up across the board on January 1?

That said, the fact that lawmakers like Kilroy are making such overtures is significant. Those members of Congress who aren't coming back to office have little to lose by casting a vote against a tax cut deal that temporarily extends rates for the wealthy. And with some Republicans insisting that they will oppose anything short of a permanent extension or all rates, the numbers might be tight for passing a legislative compromise.