It sounded very easy in theory. With the biggest tax increase in history set to go into effect Jan. 1, 2011, Democrats were poised to win the middle-class rock-hero award.
The song had all the subtlety of a Pete Townshend guitar riff. Pass a bill before the end of the year extending current tax law for everyone except those nasty “rich” folks (individuals earning more than $200,000 a year and families with incomes above $250,000), and bang!
Then, just hitch a ride on the shoulders of grateful fans in the mosh pit to electoral victory.
Simple, right? Not really. House Democrats adjourned for their summer recess last week, leaving town with a bad case of confusion about how to address future tax policy. But, one thing is clear: Based on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s comments, Democrats will stop at nothing to protect their caucus from politically tough votes this fall, even if it means kicking the can past the election.
Pelosi shared some revealing comments last week. In an article by Politico’s David Rodgers, Pelosi admitted that the House would forgo its constitutional prerogative to initiate tax bills. On the question of whether to let a host of taxes snap back to pre-2001 levels, Pelosi said, “The Senate is supposed to go first on this, and the president will be taking the lead. When we come back, we’ll see. Right now, the ball is in their court.”
Actually, the Senate is not supposed “to go first.” Article 1 Section 7 Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution reads: “All bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives.” The speaker knows that. Her comments were more a reflection of political realities than constitutional ignorance.
Yet, Pelosi’s acknowledgement that the House would wait for the Senate to diffuse the ticking tax time bomb revealed something else, that House Democrats are committed to avoiding a tough political vote before the election, only to see the Senate drop it like a hot frying pan.
Shielding caucus members from inordinate political risk is one of a Democratic leader’s principal tasks. During the past 18 months, the speaker’s followers have shouldered some heavy political baggage, including tough votes on spending, health care and cap-and-trade.
“They’re done,” a Democratic lobbyist told me, referring to the congressional schedule. “Between now and the election, no more tough votes, especially on things that don’t go anywhere in the Senate.”
And with at least three Democratic senators — Evan Bayh of Indiana, Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Ben Nelson of Nebraska — indicating they don’t believe now is the time to raise taxes on anyone, a House-passed middle-class protection plan might never make it through the upper chamber.
So, House members, singing The Who classic “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” will just wait and see what the Senate and President Barack Obama cook up.
House Democrats and their leaders see great peril in raising taxes, particularly if the Senate ultimately demurs. Pelosi and her colleagues may still try to win the rock-hero award, but only after taking a peek inside the envelope that includes the verdict rendered by the upper chamber. And, the Senate may withhold that information until after the November elections. Won’t get fooled again, indeed. It’s enough to make Keith Moon turn over in his grave.
This article appeared in The Weekly Standard.