The tax compromise bill should be signed by President Obama by the end of the day. In the end, despite criticism from both the right and the left, the measure passed the Senate overwhelmingly (81-19) and the House easily (277-148). In the House, Republicans supported the bill 138-36, while Democrats narrowly approved it, 139-112.
In the end, I think the Republicans who voted against the bill were trying to stake out a position on the party’s right flank, while most of those who supported it were no happier with the bad elements of the bill–the extension of unemployment benefits and various items of pork, like the ethanol subsidy–but recognized the overall desirability of the package, compared to the alternative. Two members from Minnesota–Michele Bachmann, who voted against the compromise, and John Kline, who voted for it–illustrate the point. Kline is every bit as much a fiscal conservative as Bachmann, but has less interest in being perceived as a leader of the Tea Party wing of the GOP.
It is hard to say whether Republicans could have negotiated a better agreement in January if they had refused to compromise now. Some conservatives, like Charles Krauthammer and Hugh Hewitt, think the Democrats got the better of the deal, while many liberals, exemplified by Congressman Anthony Weiner, think the Republicans took Obama to the cleaners. We will never know what might have happened in January, but I think it would be a mistake for conservatives not to view the bill as ultimately enacted as a substantial victory.
For some years, we have assumed that 2011 would see a massive tax increase. That this will not happen is a great benefit to both taxpayers and the economy. That the Republicans could achieve this result despite not controlling any of the three entities involved in the negotiations–the House, the Senate and the White House–is rather remarkable. I think it was made possible by the fact that many Democrats, including President Obama, recognized the damage that a tax increase would do to the economy.
For this reason, the symbolic value of the agreement for conservatives is huge. For nine years, Democrats have gnashed their teeth at the “Bush tax cuts” and have vowed to reverse them. Democrats have now controlled Congress for four years, and have made no effort to do so. When they couldn’t put off the issue any longer, what happened? A majority of House Democrats and a large majority of Senate Democrats voted to perpetuate the Bush administration’s tax policies. By doing so, the Democrats have implicitly admitted (in some cases, the admission was explicit) that the Republicans were right all along: the sort of punitive tax burden for which the Left hungers is economic poison.
I’m not a smoker, but if I were, I would light a cigar to celebrate the day when Congressional Democrats and the leader of their party’s left wing, Barack Obama, gave in to reality and endorsed the Bush tax cuts.