President Obama’s tax-cut package was never in doubt in the Senate, where it easily passed on Wednesday, but in the House, where liberal Democrats protested about both the income-tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and the allegedly too low estate tax, it was on shakier ground. In the end, though, it also overwhelmingly passed the lower chamber last night by a vote of 277 to 148, with nearly equal support among members of both parties 139 Democrats and 138 Republicans. Whoa, a true bipartisan piece of legislation! It’s like spotting a double rainbow.
The legislation extends the Bush-era tax cuts for two years on all incomes, avoiding an increase that would have otherwise occurred on January 1. It also provides a thirteen-month extension of federal unemployment benefits, and a one year partial payroll-tax holiday. And the estate tax — which the House Democrats unsuccessfully tried to alter last night — will kick in at 35 percent for estates worth $5 million or more. The White House plans to sign it into law today, and while it’s not a victory for the deficit — Congress will eventually start paying for stuff at some point, right? — it’s certainly a victory for Obama.
Many liberals in his own party may see the compromise as capitulation, evidence that Obama has no real principles. But ultimately, 44 of 57 Democratic senators and 139 of 255 Democratic congressmen supported it. Do they have no principles either? Or did they simply come to the same conclusion as Obama, and a clear majority of American voters — that there was enough good policy in the overall package to make it worthwhile? The other thing Obama has to look forward to, besides an image as a bipartisan pragmatist, is that, due to the high-profile nature of the negotiations leading up to the package’s passage, he should finally get some credit for cutting Americans’ taxes, which he did years ago in the stimulus, although nobody seemed to notice. Can his critics really expect anyone to believe he’s a socialist, wealth-spreading, tax-and-spend liberal anymore?