Bargaining vs. Hostage Taking

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When it comes to the temporary Bush tax cuts on the rich, Republicans insist that allowing them to expire would be a tax increase that they’re flatly unwilling to even consider. However, when it comes to the temporary Obama payroll tax cut on the middle class, they say that letting it expire is OK. It’s not a tax increase in this case, and our looming budget deficit is so critical that we can’t afford to keep it in place. Steve Benen comments:

If I had to guess, I’d say Republicans probably support an extension of the payroll tax cut, but just aren’t willing to say so. Why not? Because then they lose leverage — GOP officials know the White House wants this, and if they simply agree to pass the measure, they won’t get anything extra out of the deal. Hostage strategies have become an instinctual norm for Republicans.

I think I’d take issue with this in two ways. First, I’m honestly not sure Republicans do support an extension of the payroll tax cut. Historically, their focus has always been on upper-income marginal rates, and they’ve never brought quite the same fervor to middle class levies like the payroll tax or the gasoline tax as they have to things like capital gains taxes and estate taxes. They’re just really, really focused on keeping taxes on the rich low.

But even if this is just a bargaining ploy, it’s not fair to call it a “hostage strategy.” In the case of the debt ceiling fight, that was appropriate language because Republicans were genuinely threatening fiscal Armageddon if they didn’t get their way. That’s hostage taking. The payroll tax debate, conversely, is just garden variety politics. Presidents and members of Congress have bargained over stuff like this forever, and it’s perfectly normal to play hardball in order to seek the strongest advantage for your own side. This is logrolling and dealmaking and favor trading, not hostage taking.

What’s more, it’s a good thing. Frankly, we could use a little more logrolling and dealmaking and favor trading, not less. The fact that Republicans these days are so unwilling to make compromises of any kind is a major cause of our current legislative paralysis. I’d like to see more of it, not less, no matter how shrewdly the game is played.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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