Nancy Pelosi, John Lewis, gavel, healthcareNancy Pelosi dug her heels in last night and told her caucus that the President wants no extension of the Bush tax cuts beyond the $250,000 threshold. She’s also signaled that she’ll put it up for a vote on the suspension calendar, which means Republicans can’t make amendments or the motion to recommit. But it also means she’ll have to get 290 votes in order to pass it, and there’s no way she can bring enough Republicans on board to do that.

So it’s a purely symbolic vote that will fail.  But she’s asking members to take it anyway, because she says that’s what the President wants.

Well if that’s what the President wants, then maybe he should stop sending mixed messages on the subject.  Because he has said repeatedly he is “open” to extending all the Bush tax cuts, making the distinction that he’ll only do it temporarily.

Moreover, the Senate has already pretty much decided that they can’t pass the tax cuts at the $250,000 threshold, according to Sam Stein in yesterday in the Huffington Post.  So they too will hold a “symbolic” vote, and then get down to dealing:

“A lot of people want to have that contrast vote, to make it clear what we stand for,” said one Senior Democratic aide. “So we take that middle-class vote first, then we look to a compromise and see what’s in the grab bag.”

What’s in the grab bag could end up being the key towards passage. Democrats may be willing to give in to Republican demands that the rates for the wealthy be extended (at least temporarily) but not without getting some legislative goodies in return. On Sunday, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) iterated a deal that has long been discussed in private — in exchange for giving in on the upper rates, Republicans would drop opposition to prolonging emergency unemployment benefits and other tax credits.

“Make it clear what we stand for.”  Well if the President was out in front of this, making the case for only extending the tax cuts for the middle class by using the bully pulpit, that would be one thing.

But he’s not.  So what this amounts to is a sop for the base, a kabuki effort that nobody in the press will take seriously.   But they’ll be able to make the argument that they “tried.”

It’s hard to see how setting up a situation where you depend on Republican support for something they have absolutely no problem voting against is considered “fighting” for what you believe in.  Hell, most of the ConservaDems won’t even get on board.  The Republicans know it, and they’re already working it in the press:

GOP: Dems setting up tax vote failure

House Republicans said they were disturbed that Democrats might try to pass a portion of the Bush tax cuts under a House procedure that requires a two-thirds vote for passage – a move that would likely set up the tax vote for failure.

Looks like we’re going to party like it’s 2006 again.

What would a real fight look like?  Well, rather than watch Dick Durbin give up on all the tax cuts in exchange for extending unemployment insurance, figure out what you actually can get support for and put up a bill that would be tough for Republicans to actually oppose.  Chuck Schumer’s idea to raise the threshold to a million dollars appears to have support, per Sam Stein:

There is no bag of bargained goodies let alone talks to begin putting together such a package for the purposes of getting a tax cut deal done. The more advanced negotiations, indeed, have centered on the idea of raising the threshold of who would see a tax increase should rates expire. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in particular has argued that the party should change the baseline for income that would be taxed from $250,000 to $1 million dollars. He was joined, in a little-noticed comment over Thanksgiving, by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), a notable centrist vote who previously said he wouldn’t back any tax increase.

According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, extending all the Bush tax cuts beyond the $250,000 threshold would cost $38 billion in the first year.  Of that $38 billion, $32.7 billion would go to those making over $1 million per year.  Which means Schumer’s plan, if successful, would still keep the bulk of those cuts from expiring, and the burden would be on those making more than $1 million per year — which, as the JCT report notes, applies to only 315,000 families in the country.

Durbin is right to try and attach an extension of unemployment benefits.  There are 800,000 people whose benefits ran out in November, and 2 million will expire in December.  That actually makes a really clear distinction between what the Republicans want and what the Democrats want — if the Republicans hold out for 315,000 families making over $1 million a year, it’s clear that they will be choosing them over 2.8 million unemployed.

I don’t know if even that could pass, but according to Sam Stein’s article, nobody has tried to figure out what they can get through with a month to go.  Instead, they’re trying to eat up the clock with meaningless votes that make Bernie Sanders happy, which also keeps them from having to take up everything else they’ve promised to vote on during the lame duck session — including DADT and the DREAM Act.

Moreover, Pelosi’s kabuki is forcing members of the caucus to take a “loyalty” vote that will be used against them in the next election by Republican opponents.  They’ll be painted  as people who voted to raise taxes on those making more than $200,000 per year (families making $250,000).  That’s prime donor territory for most candidates.  And for what?  For a bill that simply guarantees the Republicans get the chance to pass all the tax cuts in the new year…and take all the credit for doing so.

There are people hurting out there.  They need help — or as much help as Congress can muster in its final days of the session.  Yet the House caucus is consumed with whether or not to censure Charlie Rangel.


Nancy Pelosi forced her caucus to walk the plank over Cap and Trade.  She forced them to walk the plank again over health care — lying to them and telling them their poll numbers would go up once the health care bill passed (which she and her Deputy, Chris Van Hollen, knew from internal polling was not true).

What happened to this Nancy Pelosi, from December 2009?

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has privately told her politically vulnerable Democratic members that they will not vote on controversial bills in 2010 unless the Senate acts first.

If there’s going to be a true fight for the expiration of the tax cuts, it should start at the top, with the generals.  But even as the halls of the House office buildings fill up with moving boxes and 63 Democrats prepare to head home, Pelosi is once again targeting her caucus members and firing on them, forcing them onto the battle field in a futile fight they can’t possibly hope to win.

I guess we’re going for Paths of Glory III.

Meanwhile, 2 million people slip off the rolls of the official “unemployed” into that murky territory of those who have “stopped looking for jobs” — as far as government statisticians are concerned, anyway.

This isn’t leadership.  It’s complete abdication of any sense of responsibility toward those you are elected to serve.  Now is not the time for political theater.  It’s time to get in there, roll up your sleeves and get the best deal you can to help the greatest number of people.   Time to play serious hard politics, not put on some cheap performance  before you exit stage left.

Well, maybe that’s what everyone really wants — an extension of all the Bush tax cuts.  They could hardly do a better job of teeing the Republicans up if they tried.  Pelosi is orchestrating a guaranteed failure that leaves the GOP free to do whatever they want come January.

What a horrible, horrible coda to the tenure of the first woman Speaker of the House that would be.  But that’s where we’re headed.