You could seriously argue that if Democrats approve extensions of all the Bush tax cuts, it would be as big a cave-in than George H.W. Bush’s cave-in on the 1990 budget. ~Dave Weigel
Yes, you could. Weigel is correct that it would be as big of a cave-in as that of George H.W. Bush in 1990, and it is already starting to be perceived as a cave-in on that scale. For conservatives who were already strongly inclined to see Bush as unacceptably moderate, the 1990 budget deal confirmed their fears, and more broadly it did enormous damage to Bush’s credibility. The “no new taxes” promise had not only been central to Bush’s effort to appropriate the mantle of Reagan, but when he broke that promise it also added to the general dissatisfaction with Bush’s domestic governance that many voters were starting to feel.
I would go beyond this to say that Obama’s cave-in on taxes will alienate more than vocal progressives. It could be far more politically damaging than that. This is not simply a matter of provoking the base with yet another compromise. This is a matter of abandoning a position that is widely and strongly held throughout his party. In some cases, Obama has angered progressives by doing exactly what he promised during the campaign, but in this case he would be openly repudiating one of the most prominent positions he took during the campaign.
We should understand that this has nothing to do with the policy merits or flaws of the decision to make such a deal. The 1990 budget deal was arguably an important and desirable one as far as fiscal responsibility was concerned, but it was (correctly!) perceived as a betrayal on a core promise. This deal happens to be both fiscally irresponsible and politically foolish, so it is difficult to see how Obama comes away from making such a deal without looking bad all around. What will make this deal seem even less palatable to his party is that it is one that Obama is agreeing to not because of an argument on the merits, since Obama clearly doesn’t believe that it is undesirable or unwise to raise taxes on higher earners, but purely as a concession to free up the rest of a limited lame-duck agenda. As a supporter of START ratification, I appreciate that Obama is doing what he can to try to have the treaty ratified, but there is every chance that the Senate GOP will extract the concession on tax cuts and then revert to additional delaying tactics on the treaty anyway. If Obama does somehow save the treaty in all of this, he will have the consolation that he achieved something valuable for the country, but politically he will have paid an enormous price.
Andrew responds to Weigel by saying:
He’s saying that he’d prefer to raise taxes on those earning more than $250,000 a year, but cannot in this political climate at this particular time. Nothing prevents Obama from sunsetting them in their entirety if he wins re-election on a sturdier economy. And nothing prevents him from campaigning on long-term debt reduction from now on, as a way to restore the confidence that can keep the recovery moving [bold mine-DL].
It is questionable whether running on “long-term debt reduction” is politically advantageous, but assuming for the moment that it is Obama would have destroyed any credibility he may have had on this by agreeing to the extension of the tax cuts. What does he say? That he firmly believes we need to rein in debt when he just agreed to extend unaffordable tax cuts that significantly added to it? What a deal on these cuts shows is that Obama won’t hold firm when he still has the advantage of superior numbers in Congress, which tells us that he will probably be even more accommodating when one of the chambers is dominated by the other party. How does he argue that he will let the cuts expire in a few years’ time if he won’t do so now? If the recovery improves after he has capitulated, the GOP will take credit for having forced Obama to abandon his “job-killing” policies, and if it doesn’t Obama will face the same dilemma he does today with less credibility and fewer supporters in the Congress.