Deal-Making

December 15, 2010 - 5:33 AM

The late über-diplomat Richard Holbrooke is quoted as saying, "A peace deal requires agreements, and you don't make agreements with your friends, you make agreements with your enemies."

As the 111th Congress limps to its can't-come-soon-enough adjournment, both sides of the argument on the tax/unemployment bill should take to heart Amb. Holbrooke's dictum.

Liberal Democrats in the House don't like the bill because it continues current tax rates on the highest earners for two years and exempts the first $5 million of an estate from taxation and taxes anything over that at 35 percent.

Democrats want the estate tax to return to its pre-2001 levels of a one million dollar exemption and then a tax rate of 55 percent on everything over that.

Congressional conservatives don't like the bill because it extends current tax rates on the highest earners for two years (instead of permanently) and taxes estates of over $5 million at 35 percent (instead of zero taxes on estates of any size in current law).

Conservatives also don't like the bill because it extends unemployment benefits for another 13 months without a "pay-for," that is, without an offsetting reduction in federal spending elsewhere.

Both Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney pronounced themselves dissatisfied with the bill.

One of them may need to re-examine his/her position.

Both Liberal radio host Bill Press and Conservative Rush Limbaugh said they were unhappy with the compromise.

Ditto.

President Obama, demonstrating an astonishing lack of grace, said he had agreed to the package even though he considered the Congressional GOP to be "hostage takers."

Speaker-presumptive John Boehner's press office continues to refer to the President's original position as a "job-killing tax increase," and promises to repeal Obama's "job-killing healthcare law."

Killers? Hostages? Maybe we can do without those terms in the 112th Congress.

The Tea Partiers don't like it, but I'm not certain they understand that this is still the 111th Congress.

Politico.com quotes a "co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots" as saying, "There are people around the country who expected the Congress to act differently. People in this movement think Washington still doesn't get it."

MoveOn.org organized a "call-in filibuster" ahead of the Senate vote on Monday saying "the American people need to know what the Democrats stand for and they need to see someone fighting on their behalf."

The American people, speaking on their own behalf, told a Washington Post/ABC News poll that they are in favor of the compromise by 69 percent to 29 percent +40.

In the WashPost's analysis, writer Jon Cohen pointed out that, “A slender 11 percent of those polled back all four of the deal's primary tax provisions: an across-the-board extension of Bush-era tax cuts, additional jobless benefits, a payroll tax holiday and a $5 million threshold for inheritance taxes. Just 38 percent support even two of the components.”

But, (with apologies to the improbably named lyricist Howard Johnson) put them all together they spell PASSAGE because the American people, for whom everyone pretends to speak, get the joke: They'd rather keep their current tax rates, even if someone else is getting what they consider to be a better deal than to get into another two years of partisan head-knocking.

They understand that to get the hard things done, "you don't make agreements with your friends, you make agreements with your enemies."

New Topic

Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele provided great holiday party conversation when he defied logic, conventional wisdom, and reality by announcing he was running for re-election.

The National Committees (RNC and DNC) are largely transfer engines: They transfer knowledge (lists, research, etc.), talent (field personnel, volunteers), and money (money) to state parties, local parties, and campaigns.

Who cares?

The fact that Republican candidates did as well as they did while the RNC was as useless as it was, tells us that the days of the National Committees may well be numbered.

Idea du jour: Let's stop using increasingly scarce taxpayer dollars to fund purely partisan activities. I'm talking about public funding for primary elections.

In this age of ballooning state budget deficits and, when fewer than a third of voting age people in America are even registered to vote - let along registered as an R or a D - why should public funds be spent on helping political parties decide who their candidates will be in the general election?

Want to have a primary? Use party funds to rent the school, or the firehouse, or wherever; buy the machines or the paper ballots, hire the poll workers, count the votes, and let us know who won.

On the Secret Decoder Ring today: Links to the WashPost/ABC poll, a summary of estate tax provisions, to the Census page on registered voters, and to Howard Johnson. Also a Mullfoto of a sign which nearly made me run away, and a Catchy Caption of the Day.