Chicken Home To Roost

As part of his long, smart series of posts on how the fiscal fights in Washington have wound up trapping Republicans, New York‘s Jonathan Chait reminds us today that the inflexible position the GOP finds itself in was a product of a “Maginot Line” of anti-tax oaths and litmus tests constructed after George H.W. Bush agreed to a deficit deal in 1990:

The Grover Norquist pledge, the intense distrust of backroom bargaining, the monomaniacal partisan discipline — all these were created so that 1990 would never happen again, just as the French built the Maginot Line so they would never endure the horrors of World War I trench warfare again.

Of course, the Maginot Line was a huge failure. The Germans simply went around it, and once they had outflanked the line, it became a trap that prevented the French military from maneuvering. This is the situation Republicans find themselves in now.

That’s all very true. But there was an interim moment that contributed a lot to the current leverage Obama enjoys in the fiscal negotiations: the decision by Republicans to make the Bush tax cuts of 2001 temporary in order to utilize the budget reconciliation process (and with it the ability to avoid a Democratic filibuster) to enact them. And indeed, it’s often forgotten that George W. Bush originally rationalized the cuts as a “rebate” for taxpayers attributable to the sudden advent of federal budget surpluses–again, suggesting they were temporary and contingent on the overall budget situation.

Now obviously, Republicans had no intention whatsoever of letting the Bush tax cuts ever expire; they’ve constantly tried to cut high-end income taxes even more. But the mechanism they utilized to ensure a party-line vote (in the wake of a rather less than decisive 2000 election, you might recall) has finally backfired with the tax cuts’ pending expiration and the consolidation of public opinion behind the proposition that the wealthy can and should help deal with a wildly different budget situation than the one that prevailed in 2001. Took a long time for that particular chicken to come home to roost, but it’s arrived, squawking loudly.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.