concessions the Democrats gave to get to this point and that negotiations for a year-long extension will soon commence with Republicans unlikely to be in any mood to compromise and Democrats unlikely to learn from their recent success. (Looking ahead, Steve Benen warns, "the House GOP leadership has already announced its slate of members to participate in the conference committee, and not coincidentally, most of them have said they don’t want a payroll-cut extension no matter what concessions Democrats are willing to make.")
Greg Sargent writes that this was a "very significant victory" for Obama and the Democrats, and "stands
as an all too rare example of what can happen when they draw hard lines
and refuse to budge, secure in the knowledge that the public is on
their side." Sargent also provides some key caveats. First, are the Democrats' significant concessions: "They dropped the
millionaire surtax (which had very broad public support) and agreed to
an expedited decision on the Keystone XL pipeline." Second, the Democrats were only able to stand tough because of a unique turn of events: "Either through a failure of communication among GOP leaders or a
bad misjudgment of sentiment in the House GOP caucus, a bizarre
situation developed which gave Dems all the leverage and left the House
GOP with none." And third, Sargent reminds us, "this is the only piece of Obama’s jobs plan that Dems
have been able to pressure Republicans into supporting."
Isaiah J. Poole explains how we got here and what must be done in the battle ahead:
The Next Fight For The 99%
By Isaiah J. Poole, cross-posted from Campaign for America's Future
Consider House Speaker John Boehner's U-turn on a temporary extension
of a payroll tax holiday a temporary retreat. The tea-party Republicans
who lead Boehner show no signs of actually moderating their agenda, and
that will make next year's fight to continue the payroll tax for a full
year no less intense than this week's nail-biter.
We're going to have to keep the pressure on congressional
Republicans. When it comes to anything related to the economy, they are
still in the hostage-taking business.
They will still make unacceptable demands on behalf of their
conservative and corporate overlords in exchange for the ability of
ordinary Americans to have the wherewithal to make it from week to week.
It pays to remember how we got to this drama in the first place. For that the House Republicans themselves have given us a helpful guide: the resolution they passed on Monday
affirming their support for a one-year payroll tax extension,
continuation of extended unemployment benefits, and forestalling for two
years a deep cut in Medicare reimbursements to doctors.
That resolution demands that in exchange for this that we "reduce
spending from areas throughout the Federal Government, including a
freeze on congressional salaries" and acquiescence on three important
business priorities: " (A) final approval of the Keystone XL pipeline; (B) expensing for capital assets placed in service in 2012; and (C)
drafting new regulations for boilers that are achievable and
The first demand will undercut the whole reason for the payroll tax
holiday, which is to add demand to the economy through increased
spending. The Economic Policy Institute's Andrew Fieldhouse wrote
that Republican proposals to cut federal spending "would result in
roughly 280,000 job losses—ironic, given that the purpose of the payroll
tax cut is to create jobs. Someone should remind the GOP that the
purpose of a pay-for is to offset the cost of a policy, not its impact."
Plus, budget cuts in some agencies will actually increase the
deficit, not reduce it. Imagine fewer Internal Revenue Service auditors
catching tax fraud, or fewer Medicare investigators catching overbilling
by doctors and hospitals.
Brian Beutler at Talking Points Memo pointed out
that the payroll tax break, unemployment benefits and Medicare "doc
fix" together "cost a couple hundred billion dollars over the course of a
year, and offsetting them via cuts to an already constrained budget is
hard. ... In the end, depending upon whom you ask, Senate Dem and GOP
negotiators got within $60 billion and $90 billion of the total cost —
but they couldn’t bridge the gap."
But Democratic leaders have pretty much conceded on the larger frame
of this issue by abandoning the one "pay for" that made the most sense: a
surtax of about 2 percent on incomes in excess of $1 million. That
would have placed the burden of offsetting the cost of these measures on
the one segment of the population with the capacity to bear it—the one
segment whose incomes have skyrocketed over the past decade as their tax
burdens have hit record lows.
Democratic leaders and the White House have completely caved on the
Keystone XL pipeline. By allowing language in the two-month extension
that requires the administration to make an environmental ruling on the
pipeline, which would run from Canada to the Gulf Coast, Democrats
allowed Republicans to get away with one of their repeated attempts to
have Congress dictate the terms of administrative actions of the
executive branch. Earlier, the House passed legislation that would
essentially strip the executive branch of its ability to make
independent decisions on environmental policy based on expert,
scientific analysis, and instead impose the whims of Congress (and the
corporate lobbyists who own Congress) on the process. It is bad enough
that the Keystone XL pipeline will only create a small number of jobs during its construction and is intended for exporting Canadian tar sands oil overseas;
little if any oil would end up being used in the U.S. But the pipeline
is a conservative nose in the tent of congressional micromanagement of
the executive branch—a highly dangerous trend.
Which brings us to the innocuous sounding directive that the feds
draft "new regulations for boilers that are achievable and
cost-effective." That's in response to the Environmental Protection
Agency's anticipated ruling, which finally came out earlier this week,
on reducing emissions from coal-fired power plants.
David Roberts at Grist writes,
"There are still dozens of coal plants in the U.S. that don't meet the
pollution standards in the original 1970 Clean Air Act, much less the
1990 amendments. These old, filthy jalopies from the early 20th century,
mostly along the eastern seaboard and scattered around the Midwest, are
responsible for a vastly disproportionate amount of the air pollution
generated by the electricity sector in America, including most of the
mercury. They have been environmentalists' bête noire for over 30 years
The EPA's new ruling would finally force these plants to adapt new
technology to operate more cleanly or shut down altogether. The
Republican directive is to keep these plants open and force no
consequential changes in the amount of mercury and other pollutants
released by these plants other than what the industry itself deems
"achievable and cost-effective."
So this is the deal the conservatives in the House, and their
counterparts in the Senate, are offering the American people: You want
an extra $40 or so in your biweekly paycheck? You're going to have to
accept a crippled federal government (including federal workers who
won't see a raise until at least 2014), a pipeline that puts
environmentally sensitive parts of the country at risk for only a
pittance of jobs, and the continued operation of outdated, coal-fired
power plants that spew toxic chemicals into the air breathed by tens of
millions of Americans.
It's hard to have a merry Christmas when this is the kind of fight
that lies ahead. The good news is that Christmas does remind us of the
basic values we're fighting for, that in the end it's people who matter
most. We can use this time to fortify ourselves for the fight ahead.