Monday, December 13, 2010

A House Divided or Democrats being Democrats?

Many Democrats are berating the President for "caving in" to the Republican demands on tax breaks for the rich and estate taxes.  Senator Bernie Sanders brought back the old fashioned filibuster on the Senate floor the other day. Congressman Chris Van Hollen is one of the Democratic Congressional members leading the battle to oppose the tax cuts on the House side.  What's a party to do?

First, we as Democrats should take a deep breath, express our discontent, and move forward.  Dana Milbank had an interesting column in the Washington Post in which he claimed that the White House stood aside and listened to Congress on the Health Care debate.  It did not push or pull and almost allowed the public debate on health care to be side-swiped.  The 2009 summer of Congressional dithering, town meeting posturing and Senator Max Baucus' refusal to allow the public option even to be discussed almost derailed the health care bill.  We all watched as the Republicans snipped and clipped and tried to destroy any options proposed.  We saw no real proposals or constructive alternatives offered by the other side.  Still, by the narrowest of margins, the Senate passed a bill which, although imperfect, became the first major overhaul of health care in decades.  Sure, the pharmaceutical companies and the health insurance carriers are doing their best to undermine its provisions, which they had signed on to, but we have a bill enacted into law.   We now have protections for children with congenital conditions and students can stay on their parents health care policies until age 27.  Insurers can no longer deny coverage for pre-existing conditions or remove those with chronic conditions from coverage.  No, we did not get my choice -- a single payer option nor a broad public option, but we have something.  As Democrats we can celebrate that victory.   Now where do we go from here? 

Secondly, as a Democrat, I believe we have a Presidential election we must win in 2012 and we cannot do that if we are not united.  When the Republican leaders come in and say their first priorities are to deny President Obama a second term, doesn't that say something to Democrats?  Why are Democrats not calling them out here?  When the economy was allowed to tank under their President and their policies, how can they try to get away with this negativity?  Because -- wrong as they are -- they stick together.   President Obama is trying to get a deal done here.  If the lame duck session cannot get it enacted, then he can point to a blown agreement.  This should be his best chance -- if Democrats can support their President.  Should the other side be holding up every other piece of legislation to get their way?  Of course not!  However, due to the archaic Senate rules when a supermajority is required to agree on anything and 51% is not a majority,  how does one break the stalemate? 

Additionally, we should not support tax breaks for the rich.  If this were a way to stimulate jobs, why hasn't it happened in the last ten years?  Why are oil companies, banks and Wall Street all back in the black with record profits, while the average American is seeing income flattened?  So -- skip the tax breaks for the rich -- and skip the roll back of the estate tax provisions for millionaires.  Let's allow the small businesses up to $500,000 of income a break, if that is what it takes, to compromise.  But do make certain, that until unemployment significantly decreases, the long term out of work people will continue to receive the pittances that keep them off the street.  Over the last year, Democrats have been all over the place.  We have yellow dogs and blue dogs and even some down dogs, while our opponents have mostly stood their ground and we could not capitalize on our majority.  Democrats allowed the Ben Nelsons and Blanche Lincolns to go their own way.  Did that help in the end?  Retool, offer constructive amendments, stand up for something.  Find a way to work together. 

Finally, when he initially came into office, the President reached out across the figurative aisle and was rebuffed.  He first stayed on the sidelines.  Now he has stepped forward and has tried to find a way to work out a deal.  The President has worked to secure many of the promises made on the campaign trail.  He has not been perfect -- but compared with his predecessor -- well there is no comparison.  He wanted to close Guantanamo -- the Congress refused to allow him to bring the detainees here.  He wanted to have civilian trials.  Again, the other side started an uproar.  He wanted to address "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell," but the Senate cannot even gather a vote, even though the Secretary of Defense and many Generals testified for it.  On the wars -- Iraq has wound down significantly.  Afghanistan is another issue -- let's give him 50% here.  As a progressive, I want to push the President further away from the minority party, but I also want to make our country work well.  I want to govern in spite of the Republicans, precisely because they do not act to support the common good.  As President Obama said so eloquently in 2004, we do not have only blue states or red states, we have the United States of America and we should work together.  Others have said that more practically -- we have purple states where red and blue are joined together in order to govern. 

What do you think?  Is real governance truly the art of the compromise?  Is confrontational politics the only way to go?  Should Democrats support or challenge President Obama on the tax cuts?  Do you think the mid-term elections sent a true message or was the message skewed by the media and the money involved? 

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