Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Game of Chicken

If House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) thought he might get a little support from the rest of the GOP leadership on Capitol Hill on his slight hint that he’d compromise with the White House on the Bush tax cuts, he doesn’t really know who he’s dealing with.

Senate GOP leaders declared on Monday that Republicans are, to a person, opposed to legislation that would extend only middle-class tax relief — which Obama has repeatedly promised to deliver — if Democrats follow through on plans to let tax rates rise for the wealthiest Americans. The GOP senators forcefully made their case one day after House Republican leader John Boehner suggested he might vote for Obama’s plan if that ends up the only option.


“Only in Washington could someone propose a tax hike as an antidote to a recession,” GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said.

McConnell has said a bill extending the tax cuts for only low- and middle-income earners cannot pass the Senate, but he declined to reiterate that threat on Monday. Republicans control 41 seats, the minimum needed for a successful bill-killing filibuster, though McConnell spokesman Don Stewart declined to say whether all 41 Republicans would support a filibuster.

To amplify his point, McConnell on Monday introduced a bill to extend to Bush tax cuts indefinitely for all income ranges.

I’m not sure why anyone would think it would be any different. Steve Benen notes,

I have no idea what the strategy will be from the Democratic leadership, but it doesn’t appear especially complicated. Step 1: bring a bill to the floor that would permanently lower the rates for families making $250,000 or less. Step 2: dare Republicans to kill it.

It’s a rather classic game of chicken. Republicans think they have the advantage, because they’re in a position to block lower rates for the middle-class unless Dems go along with breaks for the wealthy. Democrats think they have the advantage because their plan is more popular, and because they’ll blame Republicans for blocking middle-class tax cuts during an election season.

Republicans will say, “Give us everything we demand or tax rates will go up on everyone.” Democrats will say, “Um, voters? The other guys are holding Obama’s middle-class tax breaks hostage because they’re worried about millionaires and billionaires.”

Mr. Boehner blinked first on Sunday — or at least it looked like he did. Now if the Democrats had their game on, they’d call the GOP out on it. A rather big “if,” but that’s the way the game is played. Now if they could just do something about Ben Nelson….