How will RI delegation vote on tax cut deal?

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Rhode Island's Congressional representatives, Democrats all, have complained about President Obama's tax deal with Republicans that preserves tax breaks for the wealthiest two percent of Americans. But that doesn't mean they will back up their rhetoric with their votes.

Like an organ filling up a church with Christmas music, the Democratic talk in Washington about the unfairness of the Obama-Republican tax deal is cascading through our nation's capitol.

Rhode Island's Democrats are upset at the solid Republican wall of insistence that any tax legislation include a continuation of the Bush tax cuts for the top two percent of families that earn $250,000 a year or more.

Sen. Jack Reed scored the Republicans for their unwillingness to a fiscally responsible plan aimed at the middle class. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse criticized the GOP for holding middle-class tax reductions and an extension of unemployment benefits "hostage to tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.''

And Rep. Jim Langevin said it isn't fair to ask Social Security recipients and the unemployed to tighten their belts to help balance the budget without asking the same of the wealthy.

Outgoing Republican Gov. Don Carcieri was the only leading Rhode Island politician to unequivocally endorse the compromise, which will renew jobless benefits for the unemployed, establish a one-year cut in Social Security taxes and extend all of the Bush-era tax cuts for two more years.

While the Washington wonkoncracy kvetches over the deficit, those of us outside the Beltway chatter circuit worry about the stubbornly high unemployment rate. Given the choice of a bigger deficit or more stimulus spending, many people on Main Street would opt for more government red ink.

On an intellectual honesty level, Republicans and their Tea Party allies do seem more than a tad hypocritical. The tax cut deal their leaders cut with President Obama would balloon the deficit by an estimated $900 billion, more than the cost of the Democratic health care program.

The sad part of all this is that at a time when voters are concerned about bloated and earmark driven government spending, the only way this deal likely passes the Congress is if it gets greased with lots of pork presents under the tree.

A big part this scrum is the legacy of the George W. Bush administration, when two wars and a huge increase in Medicare drug benefits were swiped onto the national credit card. Americans have notoriously short memories, but we should not forget that when Bush took over in 2001, he was bequeathed a surplus by Bill Clinton.

Not, of course, that Clinton's economic legacy is untarnished. Clinton spent even more time seducing the plutocrats of Wall Street than he did Monica Lewinsky. The 1990s end of the Glass-Steagal firewall between commercial and investment banks and the foolish securitization of mortgages led directly to the 21st Century economic implosion.

The negotiations between Obama and the Republicans proved that the only people for whom Republicans really care about are the nation's wealthiest taxpayers, regardless of the size of the deficits.

Obama, faced with a recalcitrant Republican House come January, but desperate for putting more money into the economy, probably figured that this was the best he could do. So the nation will borrow another $900 billion from China to finance tax cuts for the billionaires and millionaires and a set up a tepid effort to jump-start the economy before the 2012 election cycle opens.

This is all playing out in one of those 11th hour pressure deals which legislative bodies are notorious for. Without a deal, paychecks shrink Jan. 1, when the taxes reset. And both sides want a vote before lawmakers trudge home for the Christmas and New Year's holidays.

Liberals are lamenting this deal, but they, too, face a dilemma. They had better wake up to the ice water shower they face in January, with the newly empowered and emboldened GOP House salivating over the chance to dismantle health care, the Wall Street regulatory changes and make sure there is no more progress on gay rights or abortion rights.

The Rhode Island politician with the most at stake here is Whitehouse, who must face voters in 2012. A staunch liberal, Whitehouse won in 2006 with the energetic support of the left side of the Democratic Party. So far, he has been straddling on the tax deal, playing Hamlet to a polarized electorate.

But sometime next week he will be forced to cast a vote.

If he supports the president, liberals will frown. And if he doesn't, he will feel the White House chill. Either way, it will be the first telling vote of his reelection campaign, which will begin in earnest shortly after the singing of Auld Lang Syne on New Year's Eve.

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