Thursday, December 16, 2010

So, we make another crappy "compromise" -- i.e., the tax package -- because, y'know, we HAVE to (wink, wink)


by Ken
A sweeping tax package negotiated by the White House and GOP leaders sailed through the Senate on a 81-19 vote Wednesday and now awaits action by the House as early as Thursday.
-- "Political News Alert"
sent out today ("Senate passes tax package")

Okay, it's not a done deal. As the second half of the head on the click-through story reports, "House Dems weigh amending estate tax." And the story notes:
Despite the lopsided tally, many lawmakers were lukewarm about portions of the package. For Democrats, extending all the Bush tax breaks - if only temporarily - was a bitter concession, after many in the party, including Obama, had campaigned on a pledge to allow rate cuts for the wealthiest households to expire.

But the handwriting was on the wall. You knew there was going to be either this "compromise" or some other, possibly even crappier one. (Give those people more room to negotiate, and things almost always get worse, not better, as canny operators find opportunities to slip in bits of their running agendas, possibly at the cost of features in the legislation which were once considered "untouchable.") And of course Senate Minority Leader "Miss Mitch" McConnell is threatening in his usual creepy-cronish way that those House Dems better not go a-messin' with this finely crafted "compromise."

The apparent key is that the one thing folks know about the tax package is that without it, their taxes go up Jan. 1. Of course some lower-income people's tax bite is going to increase, but they're lower-income people, and nobody gives a good gosh-darn about them. If they were important, they wouldn't be "lower-income," would they? And so neither party is prepared to be the Grinch Who Raised Taxes Jan. 1. The Republicans, meanwhile, got so much out of the deal (including stuff like the much less onerous estate tax than the Clinton-era rates that would have gone back into effect if the sunsetted Bush version hadn't been relegislated in some form and a new era of futzing with the Social Security payroll tax that sure seems calculated to terminally ratchet up its threshold of political vulnerability) that they could afford to give some ground on extension of unemployment benefits, which incidentally lets them off the hook as the Grinch Who Stole Unemployment Benefits.

There's still more DC Tax Cut Theater to come, as the two houses of Congress thrash out their little differences, but we now have the general idea of what's going to be. And we have to do it, because otherwise . . . well, otherwise, it's kind of like when we just had to pass the bankster bailout, and then TARP, just exactly the way our Solomonesque legislators had worked them out, because otherwise . . . well, it would just be the end of everything.


The one point I wanted to call attention to is what seems to me a Brave New Era of Poll-Number Meaninglessness. The standard Village messaging on the tax package this last week or so has been that 70 percent of Americans favor the "compromise" package. And I'm sure somebody paid good money, and poll-taking workers were in turn paid their living wage, to generate the number. But what does it mean? Or does it mean anything? Because how many of those 70 percent of Americans have any idea what's in the package?

Hey, I'm not sure even confirmed political junkies know what's in the package. When the Teabaggers ridicule 1000-page bills, they have a point; they just have no idea how to change the system. After all, there are legitimate complexities to legislation -- dotting "i"s and crossing "t"s as well as dealing with real-world intricacies and contradictions. The Teabag mind is a simple mind. Legislation tailored to that specification tends to be self-defeating, or to invite whole hosts of unanticipated consequences. Simplicity is lovely, but it's not reality.

But we were talking about the polling world in the year 2010, and I'm also thinking about a Washington Post-ABC poll that's been much talked about the last couple of days. Here's the opening of the paper's report on that:
Republicans made major gains in the November elections but they have yet to win the hearts and minds of the American people, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The midterm elections – where Republicans gained 63 seats to take control of the House of Representatives and added six seats to their Senate minority – were widely seen as a rebuke to President Obama. Still, the public now trusts Obama marginally more than congressional Republicans to deal with the country’s main problems in the coming years, 43 to 38 percent. And when it comes to who has taken the stronger leadership role in Washington, it's an even divide: 43 percent say Obama, 42 percent the GOP.

Now it shouldn't be news that the election result did not mean a sudden groundswell of support for Republican ideals or ideology, and back on Election Night there were even Republicans who understood this, starting with Speaker-to-be John Boehner. On the night of the great triumph that was going to propel him into the House speaker's chair, Boehner was, incredibly shrewdly, low-key, taking pains to say only that voters had decided to give his party another chance, and that they would now have to live up to that chance.

What interests me in the numbers presented here is that last sentence: "When it comes to who has taken the stronger leadership role in Washington, it's an even divide: 43 percent say Obama, 42 percent the GOP." Now I don't know what questions were asked exactly. Maybe the respondents were asked something like:
Who has taken the stronger leadership role in Washington?
* President Obama
* congressional Republicans
* the Washington Nationals baseball team
* the Lincoln Memorial

'Cause otherwise I'm kind of dumbfounded to think that 43 percent of respondents gave the nod to the president, and something way beyond dumbfounded to think that 42 percent of respondents actually went on record saying that congressional Republicans took a leadership role in dealing with the country's main problems. Are we talking about some other congressional Republicans we don't know about, like maybe in some parallel universe?

I would be less dumbstruck if the numbers were, say, 33 percent and 32 percent -- or, more plausibly still, 23 and 22. But I'm as mystified by what's in the minds of that combined 85 percent as I am by those 70 percent of the people who "favor" the tax package. They're real-sounding numbers, all right, but I can't help thinking they don't measure anything real.

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At 7:10 AM, Blogger Taylor Wray said...

I'm also highly suspect of political polls these days, and to be honest, I don't really give two shits what the other 300 million idiots in this country think about something.

You're right - the American people have no fucking clue what is really in the tax package or any other piece of legislation, if they even . So what's the point of asking them about it?

It would be nice if our political LEADERS actually LED by taking a genuine, principled position on a given issue, rather than trying to satisfy the most important voting and donor demographics in their constituencies according to focus groups and opinion polls.

At 11:03 AM, Anonymous Mike the Mad Biologist said...

The question from the poll was:

Who do you think is taking a stronger leadership role in the government in Washington these days, (Obama) or (the Republicans in Congress)?

There wasn't a "neither" option, which probably explains a lot. What a stupid question--can't believe someone paid money for that.

At 11:17 AM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Yeah, Mike, that's a great way to ask a question. Interestingly, they were only able to get 85 percent of their respondents to bite. I guess the remaining 15 percent were split between people who were too sane to pick this particular poison and people who were just too confused. Maybe you can't blame them. Washington? Leadership?



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