The Tax-Cut Vote: Economic vs. Political Victories


President Obama's controversial tax-cut package has overcome another hurdle -- with the Senate's 83-15 approval of the $858 billion plan on Monday.

37 Republicans and 45 Democrats voted in favor of the package. Among the nays were nine Democrats, five Republicans and Senator Bernard Sanders, Independent of Vermont.

Sanders, the archetypal irascible rumpled liberal, became a Twitter hero last week when he tried to filibuster the tax deal reached between President Obama and the Congressional Republicans. Some fans of the 69-year-old politician are calling on him to aim higher -- towards the White House.

The Draft Bernie Movement

"Now, at this crucial moment in U.S. history - at a time in which our economy and financial system are enduring the worst collapse since the Great Depression; the middle class is suffering and declining while the extremely wealthy grow ever richer; and good American jobs are disappearing from this country, perhaps never to return - we believe your firm and passionate voice of reason is needed in the 2012 presidential debate," says a petition posted on the website

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Supporters are even selling Bernie Sanders t-shirts on the gift website, CafePress. The senator probably doesn't stand a snowball's chance of succeeding Barack Obama as the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. For one thing, most Americans (69%) back the tax-cut deal, according to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll. The Draft Bernie movement does, however, underscore the left's unhappiness with a compromise that, among other things, will extend the Bush tax cuts, reduce payroll taxes and extend the unemployment benefits of four million people.

Unfortunately, the senator and his supporters are missing a larger point here. While far from perfect, the deal does plenty of good. Obama scored some significant victories with this package -- including preserving the estate tax, which many Republicans and supporters of the Tea Party made eliminating one of their top priorities.

Proof Both Parties Can Work Together

Democrats in the House, meanwhile, are balking at allowing the bill up for a vote. But a compromise likely will happen within the next few days -- because neither party wants to be held responsible for increasing most people's taxes, and potentially leaving millions of jobless people destitute.

Obama acknowledges the bill is far from perfect -- but argues that, taken as a whole, it will help the economy. And according the president, the Senate vote on the package is proof "that both parties can, in fact, work together."

Could Obama have gotten a better deal? I don't think so. The Republicans made it abundantly clear they were against raising taxes on anyone -- even millionaires and billionaires -- in the midst of a recession. In an ideal world, Obama would have been able to tell the Republicans that helping the rich during an economic downturn was both bad economics and bad social policy.

Since the early days of the Republic the only way to get things done was via compromise, with both sides giving something to get something. These days, Obama is the one doing most of the compromising. But if he didn't take action the alternatives would have been worse.

Given the choice between political victory and a tax increase, I will take lower taxes every time. Sorry, Bernie.