Betting on the Obama-GOP compromise

Last week, the drama in DC was all about the deficit. But that "moment of truth" has faded from the headlines as attention turned to this week’s brouhaha: tax cuts.  

The $700 billion-plus Obama-GOP compromise offers something for everyone – except perhaps for the deficit hawks:  an across-the-board two-year extension of the Bush tax cuts, a payroll tax break for all workers, a 13-month extension of unemployment benefits, reductions in the estate tax, and a variety of tax credits benefiting business. 

In response, the sparks are flying on both sides of the political spectrum.  Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has vowed to filibuster, calling the deal “an absolute disaster and an insult to the vast majority of the American people.”  Among liberal Democrats, the reaction ranges from resignation to outrage, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi describing the estate-tax provision as “a bridge too far.”  Vice President Biden was dispatched to the Hill to address Democratic concerns, delivering a direct message that the compromise is “as good as it gets.”

Meanwhile, Republican support for the package could be eroded by prominent conservative opponents, including Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and the anti-tax Club for Growth.  DeMint hinted at a filibuster of his own, and the Club for Growth called the cuts “bad policy, bad politics, and a bad deal for the American people.”

Some Washington observers see an upside to the friction between President Obama and congressional Democrats.  Steven Pearlstein of the Washington Post thinks Obama missed an opportunity for political theatre by compromising too quickly, and he doesn’t like the substance of the deal.  But he praised the president “for finally understand[ing] the difference between leading the country and leading his party.”

And Politico reports that the White House “quietly welcomes” the feud with Hill Dems because it puts Obama above the “partisan culture of Washington.”   However, Obama can’t afford to “stray too far from the Democratic pack” or he might not be able to wrangle enough votes to pass the tax cut deal.

The question, of course, is whether Congress can get the deal done before the year-end clock runs out on the Bush tax credits.  And this isn’t the only big issue on the docket before the holiday recess:  lawmakers also must deal with the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and the spending bill required keep the federal government’s lights on beyond December 17, when the latest stopgap measure runs out.  Stay tuned, it’s going to be an interesting couple of weeks.