The University of Texas at Austin
  • The uncooperative Democrats and their tax cuts disaster

    By Sean Theriault
    Sean Theriault
    Published: Oct. 8, 2010

    Sean Theriault, associate professor of government in the university’s College of Liberal Arts, studies American political institutions, primarily U.S. Congress and party polarization. He is researching the rise of the so-called “Gingrich Senators” and their influence on the U.S. Senate.

    The Democrats blew it.

    After Labor Day, they had one chance to change the narrative for the 2010 elections. Democratic leaders at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue offered a plan to make the 2001 Bush tax cuts permanent for the middle class, but to let them expire for the rich. But, alas, amid disunity in their own ranks, the Democrats retreated to their constituencies, promising to take up the issue after the election.

    The leaders, of course, didn’t blow it. The rank and file Democrats who would not get on board with the plan blew it. What the uncooperative Democrats do not realize is that they won’t get the votes of people who prefer low taxes -– their only hope is to appeal to undecided voters on different grounds.

    If Speaker Nancy Pelosi had the votes in the House to pass the bill, I am certain she would have brought it up. Getting the Senate to agree would have been impossible, but Harry Reid, if he had the support of his caucus, could have at least attempted to invoke cloture to end the certain Republican filibuster.

    The problem with going forward without the support of the entire party was that it would only have shown the lack of unity in the party. These actions would have made the narrative look even worse and, most likely, resulted in more losses on Nov. 2.

    Had the rank and file gotten behind the plan, the Democrats could have developed several messages that might have changed the narrative.

    First, they could have claimed to be the only party offering a plan to extend the middle class tax cuts without exploding the deficit. They could have employed the chief Rovian strategy of attacking the opposition where they are strongest.

    Second, they could have shown, once again, that the Republicans’ only legislative strategy since Obama’s election was, “no.” Saying “no” to reforming a complex health care or bank financing system is one thing -– saying “no” to middle class tax cuts is entirely different.

    Third, they could have demonstrated that, at the end of the day, Republicans aren’t concerned about the middle class as much as they are the folks making more than $250,000.

    In fact, they could have shown that the Republicans would rather not have tax cuts for anyone if they could not get tax cuts for the rich. The political class saw the dilemma this was causing the Republicans when Minority Leader John Boehner was called to task for even suggesting that middle class tax cuts were better than no tax cuts.

    But, in the end, the Democrats took Boehner and the Republicans off the hook. Of course, the Democrats could have only changed the narrative had they been able to develop a consistent and compelling message, something that has eluded them this election season. Perhaps it was best that they left town without even trying.

    Visit the mid-term elections blog series home page for a complete lineup of faculty experts’ analyses.

    • Quote 2
      ginger palumbo said on Nov. 20, 2010 at 8:18 p.m.
      I will continue to worry about hand-outs to the poor from any sector of society as long as Unclse Sam considers himself the best middle-man to do it, Rachel. Tell ya what--lets give all your hard-earned money to somebody who doesnt want to work for it because you dont seem to care about the governement deciding it needs to be the great economic equalizer !
    • Quote 2
      Dr. Foz said on Nov. 1, 2010 at 2:10 a.m.
      Interesting article and comments. I think that we, as human beings, always want things to get better quickly and easily, despite the fact that we often can't, ourselves, quantify as to how exactly such a thing could ever come to pass. Things never change quickly. No matter what the Democrats would have done in their short two years, people still wouldn't have been satisfied. Now the Republicans may take control of Congress, but, mark my word, several years from now, people will become angry at the Republicans and Tea Party movement, and we will attempt to make more sweeping changes. But, like always, kicking and screaming, America will continue to press forward and progress.
    • Quote 2
      Rachel said on Oct. 23, 2010 at 5:19 p.m.
      Over the past 30 years there has been a reduction of the middle class and a marked increase in the number belonging to either the rich or the poor. A plethora of research supports this. For example, a typical CEO made about 30 times the salary of the employee 30 years ago. Now that figure is 300 times the earnings of the employee, even when the CEO does not produce anything. In ancient times and in third-world countries, society consisted of the "haves" and "the have-nots." I certainly do not want to go back to ancient times or the political structure of a third-world country. It's Machiavellian for the shrinking middle class to be worried about "hand-outs" to the poor when the real deal is the "hand-outs" to the rich, many of whom pay a lower tax-rate than their secretaries. I agree with the professor in this essay -- It's too bad that the Democrats could not come together and let the high-end tax break expire.
    • Quote 2
      Ginger Palumbo said on Oct. 15, 2010 at 7:51 a.m.
      I agree w/Mark, this essay lacks substance. Plus the key to the defecit is to CURB SPENDING. It's no wonder so many Americans have so much debt--their big brother tells them its OK to do it. Plus if you dont pay your mortgage, they'll act as the middle man & take the money from somebody else & give it to you. God-forbid somebody should live within their means & not buy something if have the cash money isnt there!!!
    • Quote 2
      Mark said on Oct. 8, 2010 at 5:33 p.m.
      Professor, your article is sophomoric and lacks substance. The Bush tax cuts were for everyone, so logic tells us that any extension should be for everyone. The class warfare and class envy won't cut it anymore. Personally, I would favor letting all the tax cuts expire. We have a serious situation with the budget deficit/debt and it will take shared sacrifice to overcome this problem. Spending is the real problem, but that will take self-less politicians with the morale courage to tell the people what they need to hear rather than what they want to hear, which we don't have today. If not, I feel that the USA will go the way of the Soviet Union.
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