Hold the damn votes

HOLD THE DAMN VOTES…. The debate over tax policy would appear to be tough for Dems to screw up. Republicans set their lower tax rates to expire at the end of the year — President Obama and the public want to keep the lower rates for the middle class (price tag: about $3 trillion* to the debt over the next decade), while Republicans want that and breaks for the wealthy, disproportionately benefiting millionaires and billionaires (price tag: about $4 trillion to the debt over the next decade).

The smart move for Democrats, it seems, would be to hold a vote on Obama’s proposed middle-class tax breaks — before, you know, the election — and dare Republicans to reject it. Greg Sargent reports today that the smart move isn’t going over especially well.

A number of “moderate” House Dems have privately given Nancy Pelosi and other Dem leaders an earful in recent days, urging them not to hold a vote on whether to extend just the middle class tax cuts and not the high end ones, because it will leave them vulnerable to Republican ads, sources involved in the discussions tell me. […]

Three dozen moderate Dems have signed a letter to Dem leaders demanding a vote on extending all the tax cuts. And behind the scenes, they are telling House Dem leaders in no uncertain terms that they don’t want a vote focused on just the middle class ones, the sources say. The leadership aide says moderates are complaining that if they take the vote, “they’ll be subject to a 30 second ad saying they raised taxes.”

I hate to be the one who breaks this to Dems, but they’ll probably have to face those ads anyway. It doesn’t matter if it’s wrong. Republicans may have rejected the tax cuts in the stimulus, and the tax cuts in the health care bill, and the tax cuts for small businesses, but they also have a tendency to make stuff up in attack ads. Giving the GOP what it wants rarely helps — it tends to just encourage them to be even more irresponsible.

With that in mind, why not take the step that’s better public policy and politically smart? Why not focus pre-election energies into cutting taxes for the middle class?

Indeed, why not make a really big deal about the fact that Democrats are fighting to pass middle-class tax cuts and have had to fight Republicans tooth and nail to make it happen?

More specifically, like Jon Chait, I continue to think the best of all strategies would be to hold two votes: one for the lower middle-class rates and one for breaks for the top 2%. If Dems are panicky, they can vote for both. If Republicans hold them hostage, that becomes the basis for a major campaign issue.

If push comes to shove, and both pass, the president could even veto the latter and explain we can’t afford more breaks for millionaires.

All Dems have to do is Hold. The. Damn. Votes.

Postscript: It’s worth emphasizing that while many Dems waver, a few are stepping up to show some progressive leadership. Alexi Giannoulias, the Democratic Senate hopeful in Illinois, is launching a new site called 700 Billion Reasons, as part of an effort to promote Obama’s tax-cut policy. In a statement, Giannoulias said, “I’m launching a new advocacy site today, 700BillionReasons.com, to help voters across the country share their reasons about why we shouldn’t doll out a $700 billion tax cut to a sliver of the wealthiest Americans when we could use that revenue to invest instead in the middle class or pay down our debt.”

* fixed