Dec 102010

President Obama set off a lively week for a lame duck Congress when he announced a tentative tax cut deal on Monday. Meeting without Democratic representation, the President carved out a hostage-release deal with Republicans that would give them the cuts they want for the top 2% in exchange for the extension of unemployment benefits and tax cuts for 98% of Americans. The President says this is the best deal that could be made, but many Democrats disagree.

Sadly, while the issue of tax cuts for the rich was a centerpiece of President Obama’s election campaign, he has yet again caved to the Republicans and decided to feed the rich. The Obama “deal” will not only break his campaign pledge and extend the Bush cuts for the top 2%, but it will also create a nice sweetener for the uber-wealthy in the form of an $88 billion tweak to the estate tax. Under the Obama deal, estates up to $5 million will be exempted from the tax, and the rate for those over will be 35%.

The President wants us to believe that a deal that will add nearly $900 billion to the deficit, with almost all of it in temporary relief, is a positive step for America. He wants us to believe that an estate tax measure that benefits only the top one-tenth of 1% is a legitimate price to pay to get a 1-year extension for unemployment benefits. He contends that the only way to get continued tax relief for 98% of Americans is to cave into Republican demands that serve millionaires and billionaires.

Most Republicans are already doing a victory dance over the Obama deal, which might help explain why congressional Democrats are finding some backbone in opposition. Many Democrats are incensed that in order to get assistance for those harmed most in the economic collapse, the President has given into Republican blackmail. They contend that for 40 years, all extensions have been granted when unemployment was above 7.2%, and they find it immoral that extensions are now being used as a bargaining chip with the rate currently at 9.8%.

Another bone of contention in the deal is a 2% cut to the payroll taxes paid by employees. The reduction will provide $100 billion in relief in 2011, which will put money in pockets where it’s likely to be spent and stimulate the economy. But it will do so by further shorting Social Security and potentially opening the door for Republican advances toward dismantling and privatization.

There are some additional measures in the package, like the extension of certain tax credits for which the Democrats are in support. There’s also some acceleration of business expensing that will move forward deductions for investments — a move that would normally receive widespread support. Taken as a whole, the package has some reasonable stimulus that’s mixed with a distasteful wad of non-stimulating fat for the rich, but like the individual elements or not, the inescapable problem with the entire proposal is that it’s $900 billion in additional deficit.

The entire Obama deal is debt financed temporary relief that does nothing to address the structural issues of our financial crisis. It’s another massive round of spending that will have to be financed by China or somebody else. And if you think we have trouble now with jobs being drained out of the country, with American business investment and jobs going to China, think about how another $900 billion in Chinese owned debt will tie our hands when it comes to trade reform.

President Obama’s tax deal isn’t a solution; it’s a perpetuation of the system that’s responsible for the mess we’re in today. It offers temporary relief for structural problems and serves to exacerbate the issue of massive concentration of wealth — the very dynamic that brought us to this point in the first place. It does nothing to actually change the system, while potentially opening the door to further chipping away of our social safety net. This deal is at best a short term remedy where the proceeds are split 50/50 amongst the two sides, but where 98% of Americans are on one side and only 2% on the other.

Democrats are right in rejecting this bill. It’s being sold as the best deal the President could get, that the Republicans wouldn’t budge. But the truth is that the Caver in Chief telegraphed compromise before negotiations ever began and then he finished by punting on third down. The Republicans stand their ground against this president because they know that he will always make a deal. He’s given them no reason to change their minds.

The President’s rationale for capitulation rests on the premise that we can ill afford to see taxes rise on the middle class, and he may be right. But we can no more afford for either the present trend toward concentration of wealth or for swelling deficits to continue. He tells us that this is only a two-year deal, and that he’s itching for a fight going forward. Are we to believe that he will suddenly develop courage and become a skilled negotiator? Are we to believe he has the intestinal fortitude to promote tax increases during a presidential election?

The odds are that the answer to both questions is a resounding “NO.” This whole deal is a Republican Party delight and an abomination for Democrats. It’s another maintain the status quo, kick the freaking can down the road “deal” that will, in the long run, only worsen the situation and further deteriorate the quality of life for the majority of Americans.

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