Sen. Whitehouse: Dem Senators may not end Bush Tax Cuts if Obama not “clearly there with us”

There’s a nice piece of original reporting over at Digby’s site in which David Atkins and his brother Dante interviewed Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse on filibuster reform, Social Security, the Bush(-Obama) Tax Cuts and Medicare cuts.

Please do read for all four subjects. It’s a great short interview with lots of insight.

Here I want to highlight Sen. Whitehouse on those tax cuts, and then add Atkin’s remarks. This is quite revealing; note the president’s role.

First Whitehouse (my emphasis and paragraphing):

Dante Atkins: If the Senate remains Democratic, do you expect Senate Democrats to hold the line on refusing to extend the Bush tax cuts for the upper income earners?

Senator Whitehouse: I very much hope that we do, and I expect that we will. I think there is a relationship between how and whether we do that, and how and whether the crisis does that.

If the President draws a strong line, I think he’ll have the backing of enough Democratic Senators that he won’t be able to have a veto overridden.

That puts him in a very strong negotiating position. And I think that he should take advantage of that, and call and ask for our support.

I think if it becomes questionable whether or not the President will stick to his guns, then there are a considerable number of my colleagues, including those who might be up in 2014, who may have to take a more practical and defensive position so they’re not out on this, and then undercut by a White House move later on.

So I think that the support is there, but I would just have as my caveat that it has to be really clear from the White House that they’re there with us, and they’re not going to walk back and leave a lot of Senators exposed on a position they’re not willing to hold themselves.

“Practical and defensive” means cave.

Now Atkins:

This is incredibly important, and one of the most overlooked problems with the Administration’s near obsession with “compromise” and being the “adult in the room.”

Fair or not, the President will always be labeled by the opposition as its most partisan heavyweight. … No matter how far to the middle Obama hews, the Republicans will always accuse him of being a Communist.

That in turn means whenever the Administration caves and waffles, members of Congress who stood alongside the President prior to the compromised retreat are automatically marginalized as “even more liberal than Obama.” Uninformed voters in midterm elections will naturally assume that they’re extremists when the attack ads start rolling in.

It may be that tax cuts for the wealthy are so unpopular at this point that a Senator threatened in 2014 could stand on their own two feet on it regardless of the President’s position, but it certainly makes it much harder.

Has Barack Obama left Congress high and hanging in the past? That’s certainly the word on the wire.

Me? I think he wants those cuts to pass — all of them. And it will take united congressional opposition to stop it.

Please do click over. It’s a good fast read on each of those subjects. Nice job by the Atkins brothers.

ACTION OPPORTUNITY: What can we do? Take a cellphone camera to every Obama event you can get into and ask him early and often:

Mr. Obama — Will you swear now to veto any legislation that contains a full extension of the Bush Tax Cuts?

Be that point-blank.

This is a fight he can win anytime he wants to. Inaction is a win. He can let them expire in December, put in a January bill to give the cuts back to anyone he wants, and dare the Republicans to say No. Any time he wants it, he can have that win. If he wants it.

But I don’t trust him to want it. He caved in 2010, remember, and I think he’s going to design a deal that’s complicated enough to sneak the Bush-Obama tax cut extension past you with sweeteners, something like “see, no cuts to Social Security” or some such.

So think of this as a negotiation, you voters out there. You have him at a vulnerable moment. If Obama wants something from you, he can give you something first.

I know he can lie and reneg. But make him make it a bold lie; a world-class 180° lie. Make him pay you with weasel-free words before you tell him he has your vote.

Ask him point-blank:

Mr. Obama — Will you swear now to veto any legislation that contains a full extension of the Bush Tax Cuts?

Then ask again the next time he shows up.

In the booth you can do what you want. But in this negotiation, you’re free to tell him sorry, not good enough … yet.

Mes centimes for whatever that ends up being worth,

GP

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Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States. Click here for more. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius and Facebook.

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