First they said they wouldn’t . Then they said they would . Now they say they won’t . In a move that may be one of the last nails in the November coffin for Democrats, the debate about which Bush era tax cuts , if any, to extend has been postponed until after the election. Lori Montgomery reports (“Tax-cut vote likely set for after elections ,” Washington Post):
Democrats said they are counting on the pre-election impasse over taxes to ease when lawmakers return to Washington in mid-November for the first of two work periods before a new Congress is seated. Senate Democrats, who control 59 seats, will need to unite their caucus and win the support of at least one Republican to overcome a potential GOP filibuster. Sen. Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, said that will be easier after the elections.
“In a September session, it’s hard to separate anything you do from politics,” said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) “And the politics ultimately triumphed. We didn’t get much of anything done. And that’s why I think, ultimately, members of the Senate have decided the best thing to do is go home, particularly those who are running.”
The thing is, debating the justice and wisdom of extending Paris Hilton tax cuts was an eminently reasonable and necessary debate to have if growing deficits are truly a concern. But set aside that it would have been good policy — it would have been great politics.
The Greenberg/Quinlan/Rosner survey firm issued another Democracy Corps report  last week showing why (document to right). When survey respondents heard the following pitch:
“In these tough times, I’m fighting for the middle class, and wish Republicans in Washington weren’t always looking out for Wall Street and the super rich. They voted to let Wall Street keep the taxpayers’bailout money and companies to keep tax breaks for exporting American jobs. My opponent favors a $300,000 a year tax break for the richest, while giving $5 billion tax cuts to AIG and Goldman Sachs. I’ll take a different approach: new middle class tax cuts, helping small businesses and new American industries create jobs, extending benefits and health insurance for the unemployed, and making sure Wall Street acts responsibly. Let’s make our country work for the middle class.” (emphasis added)
…they were much more likely to vote for the candidate:
A striking 62 percent are more likely to vote for this candidate, half of those much more likely. This message is at least 5 points stronger than that in the forward-backward framework – and at least 10 points stronger among the new base voters and white working class voters.
Specifically, among the “do’s” that Greenberg et al recommend:
- Your agenda is middle class tax relief, helping small business, keeping companies from exporting American jobs, and fostering new industries (‘made in America’) and making sure Goldman Sachs and the richest pay their taxes and their bailouts.
- You are battling for new middle class tax cuts, small business and new American industry. (emphases added)
On NPR  today, Greenberg went further:
But Greenberg says there’s another argument Democrats can make that does sway independent and impressionable voters in their favor: “The message that shows Democrats battling for the middle class and Republicans battling for Wall Street — it’s a battle about who we are and who they are.” Greenberg adds that for Democrats trying to make this argument, the battle over extending Bush-era tax cuts is “a gift.” (emphasis added)
One they appear to have thrown away unopened.
I don’t expect Joe Lieberman to have Democratic interests at heart — he’s not a Democrat. (So why was he featured in the Post’s story? Ask the Post.) But I sort of expect Dick Durbin, Harry Reid, and other congressional Democratic leaders to. I don’t know what they’re thinking, but if they want to throw themselves under a bus there’s not much the rest of us can do about it.