This afternoon, the Senate held a cloture vote on the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, a $7.4 billion bill to provide healthcare to first responders and others sickened in New York by the 9/11 attacks. It failed, with the final tally at 57 votes for, 42 against. The vote was almost straight along party lines, with only one Democrat (Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in a legislative maneuver that has no need of being explained here) voting against cloture. In the twisted world of the United States Senate, a fifteen-vote majority was not enough to end debate and send the bill to a floor vote. Yet another instance when the upper house of Congress shows just how broken it is.
The GOP voted against cloture under the guise of fiscal responsibility, claiming that the bill is not paid for. This is high cynicism coming from the party that just hammered the Obama administration into extending hundreds of billions of dollars of budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthy.
What hope is there for the future of this country when a minority party as morally bankrupt as the Republicans can wield so much power?
The tax cut deal, which still has to pass muster in the House and Senate, was galling to the liberal and progressive wings of the Democratic Party. As well it should be. President Obama abandoned a key campaign promise with breakneck speed when he cut the deal, and the howls from the left have been deafening. For his part, Obama responded to liberal shock with anger and disdain, basically daring anybody to do better if they were in his position.
Obama doesn’t seem to understand that he is losing the support of his base just as quickly as he sells out their ideals. If he does understand, it doesn’t seem to bother him. He claims that all these deals are necessary components of good governance, that every bitter pill he forces his constituents to swallow is sugar coated with beneficial legislation. What he is forgetting is that he was not just elected to pass legislation. From a liberal standpoint, he was elected to stop the flood tide of conservatism that has horrified the left since the days of Ronald Reagan. Even the most blue-blooded liberal can understand compromise. Compromise is a fine art in politics, the only thing that prevents intractable gridlock from consuming the nation’s capital. But the pace with which Obama waves the flag of compromise shows that he is terrible at the art of negotiation. Cutting a deal, any deal, as quickly as possible, looks to be the guiding force behind Obama’s presidency, when putting up at least a bit of a fight, taking the debate public and at least trying to define the terms, may get him more substantial wins.
Perhaps he was scarred by the lengthy healthcare debate, which as it dragged on sucked ever larger amounts of his political capital away. If that is the case, we are witnessing a presidency on the run, one already operating in fear for its continued relevancy. How sad.
Even more sad is the Republican Party. The tax cut debate laid bare the soul of the GOP for all to see. The original plan out of the White House for the tax cuts was to continue them for middle and low income earners, and let them expire for the upper class. This was a wholly defensible position, and one that polling showed a majority of the country was behind. This didn’t stop the Republicans, who went to the mat for their paymasters with a fury and effectiveness rare in American politics.
Indeed, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell presented a letter at the end of last month to Senator Reid signed by all 42 GOP senators stating that they would block all legislation in the chamber unless the Democrats agreed to extend the tax cuts to the rich, as well. Good God, were they serious? We won’t know, because Obama caved so quickly we never had to find out. And then today, even after the tax deal the GOP wanted was struck, they blocked the 9/11 health bill.
Conservative ideology holds that targeting a specific group for tax increases, especially if they are well-off, is morally indefensible. Progressive forms of taxation are theft, forcing an entire demographic group to bear more than their fair share of the tax burden. It is an affront to self-determination and self-interest. This is a problem because they believe that if everyone is left alone to pursue their own self-interest, then everyone comes out a winner. This is ridiculous. Such an ideal would be well-founded were it not for one thing: no matter how dynamic the country’s economy, there are only so many slots at the top. It is a cutthroat world out there, and despite people’s best efforts, there will be winners and losers. Allowing the winners to hoard the winnings skews the results even further, as the last ten years of American history shows.
Progressive taxation is an acknowledgment that society as a whole benefits when those that are well off contribute more to the public well. They are asked to make this contribution because unlike everyone else in the nation, they can bear that extra burden with no adverse effect. For the good of the nation, they are asked to make this sacrifice, and protestations against progressive tax policy ring like the wails of greedy misers.
But, they got their tax cuts. Of the $900 billion that the deal will cost the public treasury, well over $200 billion will go to the top one percent of wage earners, a giveaway that averages out to over a hundred thousand dollars a year in tax breaks. Meanwhile, the deal restructures taxes for the lower brackets, and will actually raise taxes on families taking in less than $40,000 a year in total income. So what we have is a deal that will make the rich richer, and the poor poorer. Nice work.