Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa Su
COLUMN archives back to April 26, 1999

TRANSCRIPT & COMMON GROUND archives back to July 2007

Today: The tax cuts deal.

Adjust font size: Decrease font Enlarge font
Cal Thomas is a conservative columnist. Bob Beckel is a liberal Democratic strategist. But as longtime friends, they can often find common ground on issues that lawmakers in Washington cannot. View the video version of this column at or at USA TODAY’s YouTube channel at
Today: The tax cuts deal.
Cal: After nearly two years in office, we have arrived at the first common ground moment of the Obama administration, and look at the reaction. You’d have thought the president told all the country’s children that there is no Santa Claus. Many Democrats are livid, to put it mildly. They believe the president has gone too far.. Even some Republicans, who mostly seem happy with the deal, say Obama isn’t compromising enough.
Bob: Not all compromises are equal. You know I have been committed to seeking common ground since we wrote our book and began this column five years ago, but the tax deal between the president and the Republicans feels more like capitulation than compromise.
Cal: I felt the same way when President George H.W. Bush broke his promise not to raise taxes. “Read my lips” indeed.. Compromise always offends a purist. Look at the reaction of the Democratic leadership. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has scowled at it; House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., have expressed “serious reservations.”. And Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., called it “the president’s Gettysburg.”. I’m hearing from the far-left that this could mean the president will be challenged for re-nomination.. So much hope and change dashed so quickly.
Bob: Baring some unforeseen disaster, there will be no primary challenge to President Obama. Two sitting presidents, Gerald Ford in 1976. and Jimmy Carter in 1980,. had primary challengers and went on to lose the general election. But there is righteous anger among many liberals over the tax deal, and I’m one of them. Sure the extension of unemployment benefits. and a temporary cut in payroll taxes are helpful,. but letting millionaires and billionaires avoid a tax increase boggles my mind.
Cal: Even if you taxed every millionaire and billionaire 100%, that wouldn’t produce enough revenue to get close to balancing the budget unless spending is radically cut. Why do liberals fixate on how much money some people make? We conservatives don’t want to penalize the successful.
Bob: You don’t want to penalize success, but you are willing to hold the middle class hostage — as the president correctly noted. — for the sake of a few fat cats. Democrats want to give everyone a chance to be successful, which is why they reluctantly accepted making tax cuts permanent for incomes up to $1 million — four times the $250,000 ceiling Obama campaigned on.. The Republicans rejected this and convinced the president that they wouldn’t budget. I believe they would have eventually caved.
Cal: Why do you think that?
Bob: Because ultimately defending tax cuts for millionaires is a losing political message. On his best day even Ronald Reagan couldn’t sell this to the public. Let the Republicans go home for the holidays and try to defend the Mr. Potters of the world. They couldn’t and they wouldn’t.
Cal: “Elections have consequences, and at the end of the day, I won.” That was President Obama. during sunnier days — for Democrats. To borrow his wisdom, yes, the congressional elections have consequences. When it comes to negotiations, no one ever gets everything they want. The diatribadours at MSNBC don’t have to deal with political reality. This president does.
Bob: True, no one gets everything they want, but as someone who has been around politics for most of my life, this deal goes way beyond principle and looks like surrender. I just hope the president can parlay this compromise into something more meaningful in the next Congress. I may have to hold my nose to accept this stinker of a deal, but the optimist in me hopes Obama and the Republicans can actually work together on real tax reform and spending issues in the next two years. Let’s put our fiscal house in order. If that were to happen as a result of this, Obama would be vindicated — and re-elected.
Cal: I’m with you on the hope for bipartisanship, if not Obama’s re-election! I do hope this significant compromise — is a sign of things to come. Granted, this one is easy compared with the more difficult challenges ahead, but it’s still meaningful in laying the groundwork for bipartisanship.
Bob: We shall soon see.
CalI still have to note, though, that I oppose extending unemployment benefits because it creates more dependency, and people get in the habit of not working while collecting a check. I also would have preferred making the current tax rates permanent so businesses could move ahead with hiring and manufacturing with some certainty. Still, I’m willing to accept the deal and make the 2012 election a referendum on all of this.
Bob: It is because the deal extends unemployment benefits and cuts payroll taxes that I unenthusiastically and barely bring myself to support it. But give me a break. You oppose unemployment benefits because “people get in the habit of not working while collecting a check.” How completely untethered to reality. People aren’t working because there aren’t enough jobs. You conservatives demean millions of formerly hard-working Americans with comments like that.
Cal: There you go again with your class warfare. The real problem going forward, though, is Democrats. The Democratic socialist senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, conducted a mini-filibuster in a vain attempt to derail the deal.. Had he succeeded it would have been suicide for the president and the shrinking — after next month — number of Democrats in Congress. Could they have withstood the political damage that might have come from across-the-board tax increases on people of every income level beginning Jan. 1?
Bob: You’re not listening, old pal. The political damage would fall on the Republicans because by January 1 virtually every taxpayer would know that their taxes are going up because of Republicans’ never-ending affection for millionaires.
Cal: Who are you calling “old”? If you feel so strongly about this, I invite you and your rich Democratic friends — like Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry and Jay Rockefeller — to send a check to the Treasury for the amounts you think you should be paying. You can do that, you know. If you all lead the way, I will cheer your honesty and consistency.
Bob: I already sent my tax money to pay for a war in Iraq I didn’t support. But let’s talk about 2012. I just hope that election does become a referendum on this deal because it underscores the classic difference between the parties.
Cal: And that would be?
Bob: Democrats are the party of the middle class. Republicans prostitute themselves for the rich. This tax cuts deal illustrates this truth better than anything I could have ever imagined.
Cal: Neither of us likes this compromise in totality, but you must admit that it sure beats gridlock and the alternatives that would bring. Allowing the Bush tax rates to expire would mean a tax hike on all income levels, which in a recession would seriously damage the economy for all of us. Raising taxes wouldn’t mean a more responsible Congress. You and I know they’d just find new ways to spend it, and then when the money ran out, they’d cry for more. That’s what they always do.
Bob: I admit it barely beats gridlock.
Cal: This compromise, if it gets through Congress — and I believe it will — is going to give the public the opportunity to see if it produces the advertised results. And in two years their votes will decide whose ideas they prefer. We’ve seen what two years of Obamanomics has done. It’s time to try something else.
Bob: In two years, I suspect President Obama might relish that fight while invoking the words of our last president: Bring it on..

General Archive Listing - *use menu buttons for specific category