Tax Cut Extension Was the Only Move on the Board for Obama
By Dave Landon
President Obama found himself in an unusual position last week. He was agreeing with the Republican congressional leadership and going against the very strong wishes of his Democrat base. The President had come to the conclusion that his re-election in 2012 will depend upon him extending the Bush tax cuts. His previous opposition to the cuts was a cornerstone of his 2008 presidential campaign. Democrats in and out of government are furious with the President for siding with the greedy Republicans. Although it remains to be seen whether or not his political instincts on this issue are correct, it is clear that without this compromise, his re-election would be very unlikely.
When President Obama took office, his poll numbers were off the charts. According to a Fox New/Opinions Dynamic poll taken in late January 2009, Obama’s approval/ disapproval rating stood at 65% /16 %. The most important group to those record polling stats were the independent voters. They had voted for the President by a margin of over two to one, and as he started his presidency they were giving him a 65%/16% approval/disapproval rating. The pundits were certain that the Republican Party was all but finished in the wake of the election of Barack Obama, our first post-partisan president. During the last two years, the President has demonstrated how to flush away all of his political capital. Independent voters, the group that assured his historic election, have left him and his sagging polls reflect their change of heart.
After the shellacking the President and the Democrats took in the recent November elections, the Obama presidency was on the ropes. The most recent polling puts the President’s overall approve/disapprove rating at 40%/51% and with Independents only approving at 37%.
With unemployment still hovering near 10%, Republicans have been clambering loudly that the failure to extend the Bush tax cuts, which were set to expire on December 31, would deepen the recession. There seemed to be widespread agreement among economists and politicians that taxes on the American taxpayers should not be allowed to increase. It was hard to find even the most ardent Keynesian to argue that letting the cuts expire on the middle-class in a recession was a good idea. The strong disagreement on the issue centered on whether the wealthiest Americans should continue to receive their share of the tax cuts. Democrats believed that those earning over $250,000 should lose their tax cuts. Republicans believe that these are the very people who will help to create the jobs our economy so desperately needs.
Even the President, despite the rhetoric of his campaign, which condemned the Bush tax cuts, stated that he supported temporary extension to the cuts to the middle-class tax payers. The President’s problem was that the Republican leadership in Congress was not about giving the President only half of the tax cuts. It was all or nothing. As the standoff between the Republicans in Congress and the President approached the end-of-the-year deadline, it was the President who blinked. Last week, the President signed into law the two-year extension of the Bush Tax cuts.
Will this act of compromise jump-start the President’s re-election chances? Despite what Charles Krauthammer has recently written, while allowing the tax cuts to expire would have ended any hope that Obama had for re-election, it’s still too early to call Obama the “comeback kid.” The temptation is to compare Obama’s political situation as the result of the November midterm election to the similar situation faced by Bill Clinton after the 1994 midterm election. There are a number of differences and one major game changer. Clinton flirted with Hillarycare, (among other flirtatious moments for Clinton), and the public punished him for it in the midterm. By the re-election, all was forgotten, at least by the independent voters. Obama, on the other hand, passed Obamacare. The independent voters punished him in November and based upon the polling regarding this very unpopular take-over of the health system by government, they will continue to punish him for Obamacare in 2012.
Maybe the most important date for the President’s re-election chances will be coming up on March 1. The Republicans and Democrats in Congress reached an agreement to pass a short-term continuing resolution over into March. This was necessary because the Democratic controlled Congress has failed to vote on any of the 12 appropriation bills that determine spending levels for the federal government. Without the passage of the short-term continuing resolution, the government would have ground to a stop over this past weekend. Now the showdown is set for March 1. With the new Republican-controlled House of Representatives, the March deadline creates a line in the sand. If Republicans follow the marching orders that they received from the voters in November, significant cuts to federal spending must take place. The deadline of March 1 will create the first budget battle deadline for the new Congress.
The difference between Clinton’s showdown with Newt Gingrich and the 1995 Republican Congress and the pending Obama showdown is that today people are so exasperated with federal spending that they have little sympathy for the federal employees who would be affected by a shutdown of government. For Obama to really become the new “comeback kid,” it will take a move to the center that his DNA simply will not allow him to undertake. The agreement on taxes with the Republicans was not an attempt to reach across the aisle and initiate a new era of bi-partisanship. It was President Obama’s only move on the chess board. He has escaped checkmate by agreeing to extend the Bush tax cuts.
Dave H. Landon is the former chairman of the Montogmery County Republican Party Central Committee. He can be reached at HYPERLINK “mailto:email@example.com” firstname.lastname@example.org.