Adventures in liberal excuse-making

When is a vote for extending the Bush tax cuts at all income levels “protecting the middle class”? Apparently, only when Representative Dave Loebsack (IA-02) does it.

As Bleeding Heartland discussed here, three-term incumbent Loebsack was one of 19 House Democrats who recently supported a Republican bill to extend the Bush tax cuts at all income levels. Most of the Democrats in that group belong to the Blue Dog caucus, such as Leonard Boswell (IA-03). I viewed the vote as yet another sign that Loebsack is afraid to give his GOP challenger John Archer fodder for campaign attacks. Consequently, Loebsack will vote for some Republican legislation even when he prefers another approach, namely extending the Bush tax cuts that affect incomes up to the $250,000 level.

Paul Deaton of Blog for Iowa sees Loebsack’s tax vote differently.

Some liberals were quick to pounce on Loebsack for his vote, saying he should have sided with Democrats. They may not have been aware that Loebsack also voted for the Democratic version of the tax relief bill. As for me, I am keeping my powder dry for the real fight during the lame duck session, because Loebsack did stand for Democratic values last week.

The vote on H.R. 8 and its Democratic alternative was political theater and will likely be rendered moot by the Nov. 6 election. For now, the partisan lines are drawn on taxing the wealthy, and an easy prediction is that nothing will happen on the Bush tax cut expiration until the lame duck session. Loebsack’s vote seems more a marker about where the consensus builders will land on the final vote. In the zero-sum game of voting lockstep with the party, it is good to see Loebsack actually working with other members to get something done to protect the interests of the middle class.

Loebsack was one of two Democrats who voted for both the Republican and Democratic versions of how to deal with the tax cut expiration. He also introduced his own bill, H.R. 6262, the Middle Class and Small Business Tax Relief Act, to amend the Internal Revenue Code to provide tax relief to middle-class families, small businesses and family farms.

H.R. 6262 is close to President Obama’s proposal and would fix the expiring tax cuts. If the Bush tax cuts expire without relief, those hurt most by the expiration would be members of the middle class, who would see a substantial tax increase. Based on his actions, Loebsack sides with the middle class, even if it means voting for an extension of the Bush tax cuts for everyone is the only possible political solution. Of course he would vote for H.R. 8. Doing nothing carries too high a price.

I don’t know whether Deaton had me in mind here. While I criticized Loebsack’s vote, I noted that he and Boswell also supported the Democratic tax cut extension bill. In any event, Deaton’s odd case for Loebsack as a statesman on this issue is worth a closer look.

Deaton is keeping his powder dry for the “real fight during the lame duck session.” Consider how that fight would be shaping up if most of the House Democrats had followed Loebsack’s example last week. Then the Republican bill extending all the Bush tax cuts would have passed by, say, 421 votes to 3 (Dennis Kucinich, Barbara Lee, and Raul Grijalva), while the Democratic alternative would have failed by the same 170 to 257 margin. Republicans would be able to claim that their approach is the true bipartisan plan, while Democrats are divisively trying to raise taxes on “job creators.”

Loebsack may have introduced a good bill last week, but why would Congress move toward his Middle Class and Small Business Tax Relief Act when Republicans know they can shove through another extension of all the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts?

I believe President Barack Obama and most of the Congressional Democrats will cave rather than fight in December to let tax cuts expire for the top income level. Loebsack is one of the last people I would expect to drive a hard bargain, given his squeamishness in 2010 about making the wealthiest Americans pay a few percent more in income taxes.

Loebsack dismissed last week’s votes as “political theater,” and Deaton echoes that claim. A lot of what happens in Congress is posturing rather than governing. In this case, what Deaton views as “working with other members to get something done” can only diminish the odds that Republicans will be forced to settle for less than total victory in December.

Loebsack commented last week, “I am done with drawing symbolic, political lines in the sand. I am proud to be one of only two people in all of Congress who worked to find where we can agree instead of highlighting where we disagree.” My question is, are any House Republicans working to find where the two sides can agree? No, they are sticking to their guns on keeping the current tax rates forever, or as long as possible. That’s what effective negotiating looks like.

Reasonable minds can differ on whether it would be better to let all the tax cuts expire than pass an extension at all income levels. I believed in December 2010 and still believe that Democrats have maximum leverage when doing nothing means letting all the tax rates revert to 1990s levels. If Democrats are unwilling to go to the mat at that point, we may as well count on the Bush tax rates becoming a permanent fact of life.

Deaton believes that if extending tax cuts for everyone is “the only possible political solution,” then Congress best serves middle-class interests by going that route. Where’s that powder you were keeping dry for the lame-duck session? You are in effect surrendering now.

If tax rates go back to 1990s levels on January 1, next year’s Congress has time to fight over which tax rates to lower to the post-2001 rates. Certainly there would be bipartisan support for lowering the rates on middle-class, upper middle-class and some working-class Americans. Republicans would have a heavier lift trying to get a tax cut passed for the top income brackets once the Bush tax cuts have expired.

Getting back to the vote that inspired this post, Loebsack supporting both tax cut plans is only the latest example of how this nominal member of the House Progressive Caucus is increasingly joining Blue Dogs to vote for Republican bills. See also Loebsack’s votes on more offshore oil drilling, repealing an excise tax established under the 2010 health care reform law, supporting a constitutional amendment on balancing the federal budget, blocking non-existent EPA regulations on farm dust, and making it harder for the federal government to regulate some businesses.

You can dismiss all of those votes as “political theater,” because none of those Republican bills will become law, at least not while Obama is president. But I believe Loebsack’s vote for the balanced budget amendment was a factor in Representative Bruce Braley’s capitulation on that issue a few months later. As more Democrats vote for Republican ideas, those ideas become bipartisan consensus.

I don’t understand why some Iowa liberals remain attached to the image of Loebsack representing their values in Congress. Is it because he’s a college professor? His lifetime voting record is now the 146th most progressive among the 190 House Democrats. That isn’t much higher than Boswell in 170th place. (Braley is not in the top half of House Democrats by progressive score either.) Loebsack’s ranking on some issue categories is a little higher, and he is a better alternative than Archer for sure, but he simply isn’t a voice for liberal ideas or policies.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

  • "some liberals"

    includes Adam Sullivan, a target of an earlier post on the same subject.

    Clearly, “having his cake and eating it too” is working well for Loebsack. Why should Loebsack adhere to some meaningless “ranking,” when his reality is tea partiers who organize vs flaccid liberals? I note that the rag-tag tea partiers are now rolling out version 2.0 candidates like Ted Cruz. A tea party sympathizer may well get the VP nod on the GOP ticket this year, and there’s some possibility the ticket wins. Not bad for a movement that’s been around for about three years.

    What type of pressure are liberals putting on their representatives? None.

  • Thoughts

    I don’t agree with the last part of your state Albert.  I think if liberals weren’t putting some pressure on “the six pack” in the legislature, they would probably still be there.

    Arlen Specter would have survived his primary, I’m not sure Kent Conrad would be retiring and I don’t think Max Baucus would have as much to worry about if the left weren’t breathing down his neck.

    There are countless numbers of other examples.  

    • probably different

      usage of the term “liberal.”

      six-pack — all but one lost because they came from marginally Democratic districts. I am guessing that you feel that they were tarred with the liberal label due to (some of the) policies that liberals advocate for in Des Moines/Washington, DC.

      I probably don’t agree with you on Specter. I think the ad where he nakedly switched in public “so I can win” killed him.

      I think if liberals weren’t putting some pressure on “the six pack” in the legislature, they would probably still be there.

      In a sense, you’re right. Liberals make loud noises about Democrats from marginal districts while putting no pressure on safer Democrats. I think desmoinesdem alludes to this when asking why Boswell gets criticized while Loebsack gets a pass. I’ve long agreed that there’s a real double-standard when it comes to Boswell: he clearly represents the toughest Iowa Dem district to hold, and frankly, did a superb job of defending hcr and cap-and-trade votes in front of hostile audiences during the early stages of a competitive race vs. Brad Zaun.

      However, if you look at the “high-rankers” you’ll see representatives from mostly well-heeled liberal enclaves or majority-minority districts who did nothing except put on political theater when it came to issues like drug (re)importation and other reforms.

      I don’t think liberalism has a bright future, largely due to a basic disconnect when it comes to the political and economic realities in other jurisdictions and for anyone younger than the boomer generation. It’s due to younger voters that a Romney/Ryan ticket polls “even” in Wisconsin, and that’s something liberals should be paying attention to. Additionally, liberals are accustomed to thinking they are the only voices that count within the coalition, which I think will change dramatically post-Obama.

      • Very true

        I don’t know if Arlen said that because he was desperate to stay in office or he just really disliked Pat Toomey and wanted to beat him again.  I don’t know Specter personally so I don’t know if he thought he was the best representative for PA or he was just power hungry.

        I never have understood why Democrats tend to go after Brian Quirk, Doris Kelley, Larry Marek while at the same time leave a lot of races empty.  John Deeth is great, but I don’t understand why he seems to make fun of AJ Spiker for finding candidates in every district.  People deserve a choice and even if we are talking about a crazy person, they can still win a race.  

        • Sestak's ad

          was devastating — judge for yourself.

          I think liberals are underestimating the crazies. Monday morning I received an email offering me a job phone-banking for “liberty” candidates on behalf of a new PAC. If I reported to Arlington, VA immediately, I would be hired to phone-bank with lodging & meals paid for + $200 stipend weekly. My first task: to phone-bank for “principled true constitutionalist” Kerry Bentivolio (MI-11, McCotter’s seat).


          Bentivolio, a reindeer farmer, was left as the only Republican on the 11th District primary ballot after then-Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, who later resigned, failed to submit enough valid petition signatures. But his Ron Paul-aligned views worried local Republicans, who coalesced around Cassis as a write-in alternative to keep the seat from becoming vulnerable. (President Obama won 50 percent of the vote there in 2008.

          Cassis had even said that she could not support Bentivolio in the general election, after revelations that Bentivolio had acted in a low-budget, Michigan-made film that blamed a thinly-veiled George W. Bush-like character for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. But Bentivolio got over a half-million dollars of aid from a Paul-aligned super PAC, which Cassis couldn’t overcome without her name on the ballot.

          Now, Democratic physician Syed Taj has a real opportunity against Bentivolio, though he’ll have to pick up his fundraising — especially if Bentivolio continues to draw help from potent outside groups. Taj overcame his own unusual primary Tuesday night, defeating a Lyndon LaRouche supporter for the Democratic nomination.

          Good example of running a hopeless race just to have an odd turn of events drop things in your lap. It’s also obvious that the Paul-aligned and Tea Party folks aren’t going anywhere, anytime soon. And finally, they do demand that their candidates reflect their priorities, even if it jeopardizes the seat.

  • Since my name came up

    Nothing wrong with having a CREDIBLE candidate everywhere. But GOP was making it a (minor) bragging point that they had candidates for every Senate race, until Randi-Kaye: Shannon blew up in their faces. Having made that bragging point they got stuck having to nominate her campaign manager, last seen living in Texas, when no one else showed up.

    It’s also clear that one angle on the recent convention waves is nominating Paul types. Except in McCarthy’s race where they nominated a guy who literally volunteered from the audience.

    I’m disappointed that we didn’t get candidates against Jarad Klein and Lee Hein, when we HELD those* (old map) seats just two years ago. But the Rs are letting the Steve Lukan seat go without a fight. I’d think that would be a higher priority than, say, Jerry Kearns.

    • All true

      Point taken John, but you’ve also got to remember that the Ron Paul types have won races before.  The Ron Paul people go out and knock doors.  They won’t win any of the deep blue districts we are talking about, but it is a good idea to make people campaign. My point is that non-credible people (Kim Pearson) have won campaigns as recently as 2010.  

      I agree with you on the Klein seat especially.

       I live in Jerry’s district and the state GOP had nothing to do with the recruitment of Steffen, he just got started late, he was thinking about running for quite a while.  

  • Taking a Stand

    So now I have been accused of being a liberal by both Bleeding Heartland and the Coralville Courier. Perhaps that is the bona fides I need to actually call myself a liberal, something I do not.

    The difference between my view and the others is I actually know Dave Loebsack and see him often enough to talk to him about anything that is on my mind, which has typically been foreign policy, the nuclear complex and military spending issues.

    Anyone who believes the 112th congress will let the Bush era temporary tax rate expire for the majority of Americans please stand on your head. The better question is what are members of congress going to do about it? Loebsack has done something, and no matter what the chances of his proposed legislation, doing something is preferable to marching lockstep with the party and doing nothing but be a loyal partisan.

    I am not the kind of person to sit on the sidelines and wring my hands, saying woe is me.

    This post by desmoinesdem shows how out of touch she is with both the Congress and the realities of how candidates are both elected and serve their constituents. It reflects the plodding, do nothing view of so many who seek to sit in lofty platforms viewing those who have skin in the game, commenting on our work.

    Thanks for the additional publicity for my post. Perhaps one day we can meet for a cup of coffee in a brick and mortar building, rather than on the ether of electronic social media.

    Love your blog.

    Best Regards,

    Paul Deaton

    • in this case

      the “something” Loebsack has chosen to do makes it more likely that the tax cut for the top-level income bracket will be extended for at least another year or two, if not permanently.

      Please explain why it would be better if all of the House Democrats voted for the Republican bill while introducing their own legislation, which has no chance of passing. Do you not agree that more Democratic support for the Republican plan makes the Republican plan look like a bipartisan consensus?

      I don’t think Loebsack was proud of voting for the Republican tax cut extension bill, because he hasn’t mentioned it in any press releases or e-mail blasts. Instead, he is trying to direct people’s attention toward his own bill, which won’t go anywhere.

    • Heaven forbid anyone should have principles.

      Congressman Loebsack pontificates about the big bad deficit, then votes for the Bush tax cuts, which are a major contributing cause of same.  You call it doing something.  I call it hypocritical and unprincipled.

      He has thus far been unwilling to answer questions posed to him in his town hall chats regarding whether he would vote for the “Grand Bargain” that is being cooked up for after the election, and which will likely reduce COLAs and raise eligibility ages for social insurance if it imitates Simpson-Bowles and/or the President’s offer last summer.  We must address the deficit, but not if it means raising taxes on the wealthy, is the bipartisan consensus in the Washington Village. It is easier to take it out of the hides of the next generations of seniors, while protecting current retirees, so the old folks won’t vote the rascals out when they pass Simpson-Bowles. The Democrats, from the top of the ticket on down, don’t want to talk about what they are planning to do, despite overwhelming public opposition to the proposals that have leaked out.

      The kind of flippity-floppity voting behavior that draws your praise is dispiriting to people who are involved in politics because they care about policy, i.e. the party base in either party.  I delete begging emails from OFA every morning because I am not interested in donating (again) to a candidate who promised Tim Russert he was not interested in the changes to Social Security described above, and then began trying to make them before he was sworn in.

      I also stopped donating to Loebsack, since I can’t seem to get a straight answer out of him or anyone who staffs his office, which is never a good sign.  If you want people to give up their cash and their Saturdays to help you get elected, the least you can do is stand for something.

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