Senate Democrats have gained important leverage in the battle over taxes, and their unequivocal promise not to extend the expiring Bush tax cuts for the high earners is causing surprised Republicans to sharpen their attacks in defense of their signature issue.
“What’s becoming increasingly apparent … is that our Democratic friends are willing to play Russian Roulette with our economy,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said on Tuesday. “We think playing Russian Roulette with our economy is a really bad idea.”
Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) evoked a more graphic metaphor.
“It’s actually worse than Sen. McConnell said because Russian Roulette implies that you’ve got 5 chances out of 6 that you won’t kill yourself,” he said. “[Former Sen.] Phil Gramm used to have a saying around here — never take a hostage you’re not willing to shoot. But the Democrats apparently are willing to take hostage the American economy. … They are apparently ready to shoot the hostage.”
Until last week Senate Democrats seemed to lack a majority of votes to extend the middle class tax cuts alone. That allowed Republicans to portray the battle as between President Obama and Congress. But that changed when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) challenged Republicans to permit separate up-or-down votes on middle-income and high-end tax cuts, signaling he’s rounded up the votes to win. Republicans denied the offer.
Democrats hardened their position this week as party’s fourth-ranking Sen. Patty Murray (WA) vowed that Democrats won’t permit the lower rates for the rich to continue beyond their Dec. 31 expiration date, even if Republicans repeat their 2010 strategy and block tax cuts for the middle class if the wealthy don’t also get a full break.
Democrats scoffed at the Republican attacks Tuesday and pressed their advantage.
“Sen. McConnell and his Republican colleagues have made it clear that they think extending tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires is more important than tax cuts for the middle class. Yet at the same time they talk about the deficit, the debt,” said Reid, before reiterating that his offer for two separate votes was denied. “That way we can see whose plan has majority support. … If Sen. McConnell can come up with 50 votes for his plan, he I’m sure would be happy to have the votes.”
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.