Who Got What in the Tax Deal.

David Leonhardt offers a good analysis:

Of its estimated $900 billion-plus cost over two years, roughly $120 billion covers the high-end tax cuts and the estate tax cut, $450 billion covers Mr. Obama’s wish list and $360 billion covers the tax cut extensions both parties favored.

Was anyone else expecting a $450 billion stimulus this year? Me neither, and I think that's the main frame to look at this deal -- that, and Senate Democrats weren't unified enough to stop a filibuster effort that prevented the passage of middle-class tax cuts only. Ezra documents the unhappiness of progressives, who weren't included in the discussions, but their concerns seem to focus more on lack of symbolic attention than any plan they had to force a dramatically better deal.

Don't forget that congressional leadership has had numerous chances to sort out this portfolio -- including immediately before the election -- and failed each time. Obama's attention-getting comments on his critics in Congress need to be put in that perspective: Where congressional Democrats have repeatedly failed to do anything -- and not just on the expiring Bush tax cuts, but also unemployment insurance, and fiscal stimulus -- Obama got a decent deal and then was accused of betraying his principles, even after making clear that he would continue to fight for their extension over the next two years. And of course, the real tax sellout is hardly ever mentioned by Democrats and their allies: The president's promise to not raise taxes on anyone who makes less than $250,000.

Remember the scenario I laid out when Democrats were considering votes on the Bush tax cuts just before the election? Republicans would have been happy to see Obama issue a veto threat, or let the tax cuts expire. Then they could start the new Congress with more power to get a better deal and retroactively extend the tax cuts. If Obama really fought them to a standstill and nothing was accomplished, seeing the cuts revert back to Clinton levels would have had a countercyclical effect on economic recovery -- and wouldn't have been accompanied by any stimulus.

Democrats still have an opportunity to bring this fight to the public, and they could start with filibuster reform if they want an easier job of telling that story -- get rid of procedural excuses and start doing work.

-- Tim Fernholz

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