Liberals seethe over Dem punt on tax cuts

Liberals are expressing outrage that Democrats are not holding a vote to extend tax cuts for the middle class before the elections.

Two weeks after President Obama delivered an impassioned speech on the need to raise taxes for the wealthy, Democrats on Capitol Hill have delayed a vote on the politically sensitive issue.


House Democrats blame the Senate while Senate Democrats and the White House point the finger at Republicans, who they say are holding tax cuts hostage for families earning less than $250,000.

Liberal pundits aren’t buying it.

Keith Olbermann, the liberal host of MSNBC’s “Countdown” show, pointed out on Thursday that Democrats haven’t debated the expiring tax cuts on the House or Senate floors.

He said, “Senate Republicans have not filibustered Mr. Obama`s extension of middle tax cuts because [Majority] Leader [Harry] Reid [D-Nev.] never brought it up for a vote.”

Olbermann called the decision a “cave in,” adding Democrats “are afraid of the topic. They are afraid of the fight. And the Democrats in the House are afraid to go first.”

Liberal filmmaker Michael Moore told Olbermann, “This whole thing — Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidHarry Reid: Early voting states Iowa, New Hampshire 'not representative of the country anymore' The Memo: Democrats confront prospect of long primary Bottom Line MORE, seriously, I want to go down there tomorrow and tell him to drop and give me 20 right now. I'm serious. This guy, absolutely no backbone. You look at him. Who — it just — it’s so frustrating.”

A Democratic official said, “Either Democrats pass a middle class tax cut or Republicans block a middle class tax cut in favor of the Bush economic policies -- five weeks before an election. From outside the Beltway, this seems like an easier congressional vote than naming a post office.”

Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg this week urged House Democrats to tackle tax cuts head on, presenting them with polling showing a majority of independent voters overwhelmingly support the president’s proposal. Other polls show a surprising number of Republicans want the tax cuts for the wealthy to expire.

The Hill reported earlier this week that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) favored a vote on Obama’s tax plan, but Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) argued against it. Dozens of Democrats in the House and Senate, many of who are in challenging reelection races, support a short-term extension of all the Bush tax cuts.

The Senate did not have the votes to pass the president’s plan, and it is unclear if the House could pass a tax bill based on Obama’s proposal and/or defeat a likely GOP motion to extend all the tax cuts.

Liberal New York Times columnist Paul Krugman indicated he was baffled by Democrats’ punt on taxes, writing, “I guess the Blue Dogs really want to be in the minority.”

Jonathan Chait of the The New Republic wrote, “Political suicide. Just one of the nuttiest decisions, on pure political grounds, I’ve ever seen.”

The answer to GOP rhetoric on tax cuts is to take Republicans on directly, according to Olbermann and Moore. Moore said, “The bully stops beating you up when you stand up to the bully.”

Senate Democrats have tried to fire up their base in recent months, scheduling votes on the Pentagon’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, immigration reform and a campaign finance bill. All these efforts fell short of the 60 votes needed to move them forward, but Democratic strategists say they served their purpose: Drawing a contrast between Democrats and Republicans on high-profile issues.

Despite the White House’s rift with “the professional left,” Obama has not budged from his campaign pledge on tax cuts, pleasing liberals.

Knowing he lacked the votes to clear his tax plan, Obama earlier this month called on Congress to act on the Bush tax cuts, which expire on Dec. 31.

In his speech delivered in House Minority Leader John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerFormer Speaker Boehner's official portrait unveiled Key Republicans say Biden can break Washington gridlock From learning on his feet to policy director MORE’s (R) home state of Ohio, Obama said, “Let me be clear to BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerFormer Speaker Boehner's official portrait unveiled Key Republicans say Biden can break Washington gridlock From learning on his feet to policy director MORE and everyone else, we should not hold middle-class tax cuts hostage any longer. We are ready, this week, to give tax cuts to every American [family] making $250,000 or less.”

Some on the left argue it’s a strange move not to vote on something that polls well.

During his appearance Thursday on “Countdown,” Chris Hayes of The Nation magazine said, “This is something that is popular. So, what’s perverse about this logic is they've already taken a number of, you know, unpopular votes. Every one of these incumbents voted for a healthcare bill that — let's be honest — is not popular right now. So, if you go back with the record you have now, why would you not want to take a vote that will be popular as the last thing you do, the last thing that registers in voters' minds…”

Political analysts say Republicans will likely have the upper hand in dealing with tax cuts during the lame-duck session, noting that the GOP has a good chance to retake control of the House and an outside shot of winning the Senate.

If the political winds are with Republicans in November, it is unlikely GOP leaders will want to compromise on tax cuts during the post-election session.

Sam Youngman contributed to this article, which was updated at 3:53 p.m.