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.