Wall Street Journal -- Bush Tax Cuts Roil Democrats

Wherever liberal journalists are huddled online today lamenting their embarrassment at having the Daily Caller highlight their rantings and ravings at Ezra Klien’s JournoList they are also probably talking about the urgent need to push back against the growing movement to preserve the Bush tax cuts.

The White House and its allies are pushing hard on the idea that Republicans put the expiration date on the 2001 and 2003 reductions, so the pending rate hikes aren’t Democrats’ doing. But that’s pretty small beer when the net result is a tax hike.

The push to keep Bush’s reductions comes at an interesting time. The president is hard pressed to use his line about “families making less than $250,000” because it won’t be true anymore. The president will soon have to decide how low to drop the bar for the tax increase. His deficit panel will provide some targets for the lame duck session, but the income levels that take hits will be too low for political comfort.

Now, with Democratic Sens. Evan Bayh, Kent Conrad and Ben Nelson all saying even the top tax cuts should be preserved in the name of economic encouragement. It’s going to be hard for Republicans to pass legislation of any kind, but the danger for Obama will come when the amendment process starts on whatever Democratic bill on preserving low-earner cuts (actually subsidies) comes forward.

If the president can’t get his team back together, he will face either defeat on the Bush tax cuts (and resulting budget headaches) or the possibility of an across-the-board tax hike during an economic malaise.


Writers Martin Vaughn and John McKinnon, who believe tax rates are a zero-sum game, offer the administration’s rebuttal.

“Republicans are hoping the expiring Bush tax cuts become a bigger issue in the August recess, when lawmakers go home to talk with constituents. Already, House Republicans have begun pointing to the "ticking tax bomb" that will go off at year's end absent congressional action.

The GOP, for its part, runs some risks pushing for an extension of all the tax cuts, given the nation's sharpening focus on the budget deficit.

A one-year extension would cost at least $115 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Republicans have been pushing Congress to pay for any new spending to avoid increasing the deficit, but they argue tax cuts shouldn't be paid for.”


Wall Street Journal -- Worker Fired in Video Flap Gets White House 'Sorry'

There are a thousand ways to slice the story of USDA appointee (and then un-appointee and now potential re-appointee) Shirley Sherrod, but only one of any real weight: Team Obama is a mess.

Last week’s flap was about Robert Gibbs speculating that House Democrats might get booted by voters.

This week it’s because the Obama political team rushed to judgment about an Andrew Breitbart video of a snippet of Sherrod telling an allegorical tale about how black folks should be nice to white folks, even when they are trying to act superior. If you don’t listen to the whole speech, it sounds like she’s just bragging on her refusal to help a white farmer get government money.

On Tuesday, Rahm Emanuel’s deputy Jim Messina (of Andrew Romanoff email infamy) was crowing about how the administration had moved so swiftly to head off another conservative attack over radical personnel. On Wednesday, the entire administration was doing an auto de fe for one of the worst sins imaginable in the liberal church of diversity – wrongfully firing a black woman because of the charges on conservative bloggers.

You can bet George W. Bush’s administration would not have been so cavalier about firing Ms. Sherrod.

Despite the full penance of the administration, Sherrod is still holding out for more, saying this morning to Good Morning America that she expects a call from the president before she begins to consider whatever new, lucrative made-up job the humiliated agriculture secretary called to offer her.

What a change from six months ago when the White House was going to shut down the conservative media world and control the message. Now they run around trying to preempt it.

Whether it is Gibbs blathering, Messina’s swiftly erroneous judgment, or any of the other unforced errors of the Obama team, this is a group that suffers daily for lack of maturity.

Writer Jonathan Weisman reports:

“The election of the first African-American president in 2008 initially triggered a surge of positive feelings about race relations. Immediately after the 2008 vote, nearly half of white voters and three-quarters of black voters said they expected race relations to improve during the Obama presidency, according to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

After Obama had spent a year in office, Pew conducted a poll that found that 54% of blacks still believed the Obama presidency had improved race relations. Only 32% of whites said that, and 15% said it had made relations worse.”


New York Times -- Republicans Form Caucus for Tea Party in the House

The debate over policy among congressional Republicans is heating up.

(Examiner colleague Susan Ferrechio neatly outlines the situation in her piece today and my column about the need for a coherent version of Republicanism is here.)

While the debate still simmers, House Minority Leader John Boehner is rolling out elements of his plan – starting today with a pledge to post all legislation online for three days before a vote, something Democrats talked up but subsequently ditched in trying to enact Obamism.

As the GOP looks to sort out what it’s promising the people, the Tea Party is making itself felt in Congress.

Writer Janie Lorber explains how a group of Republicans, led by Minnesota’s Michelle Bachmann, have banded together as a caucus to be a “receptacle” for the Tea Party platform.

The caucus won’t likely be much of a force unto itself, but it shows how the battle inside the GOP between outsider and the establishment will be brought to the fore by the current policy debate – note well the membership of NRCC boss Pete Sessions.

“So far, the Tea Party Caucus has these 28 Republican members from the House: Trent Franks of Arizona; Gary G. Miller of California; Doug Lamborn of Colorado; Gus Bilirakis and Cliff Stearns of Florida; Paul Broun, Phil Gingrey and Tom Price of Georgia; Dan Burton and Mr. Pence of Indiana; Steve King of Iowa; Jerry Moran and Todd Tiahrt of Kansas; John Fleming of Louisiana; Roscoe G. Bartlett of Maryland; Peter Hoekstra of Michigan; Ms. Bachmann of Minnesota; Todd Akin of Missouri; Walter B. Jones of North Carolina; Joe Wilson of South Carolina; Joe L. Barton, John Carter, Michael C. Burgess, John Culberson, Louie Gohmert, Pete Sessions and Lamar Smith of Texas; and Cynthia M. Lummis of Wyoming.”


Wall Street Journal -- Son of Cap and Tax

Senate Democrats are working furiously on an effort to bring forward some kind of energy/global warming bill on Monday. It’s partly an election-year stunt and partly an effort by John Kerry and others to wring as much policy change out of the 2008 majority as possible.

Today’s Wall Street Journal editorial on the bill explains the measure expected to be key to the plan – requirements for the percentage of green energy used by utilities, which might be expanded to include nuclear power in a bid to get Republicans on board.

“Amid this fire drill, cap and tax seems unlikely to obtain 60 votes, even with the truncated debate Mr. Reid has scheduled before Congress adjourns in August. The fallback is an energy bill focused on tax credits and other honest-to-Gia priorities like home weatherization. This is marginally less harmful than a full-dress climate bill, though it would include something known as a "renewable portfolio standard," or RPS, which might be nearly as destructive.

An RPS is a mandate that power companies generate a minimum percentage of electricity from sources like wind or solar that account for about 3% of U.S. net generation today. (Nuclear does not qualify.) The targets are arbitrary—20% by 2020, 25% by 2025, etc. Consumers already subsidize these energy sources as taxpayers, and RPS would force them to subsidize it as ratepayers too.

Some 29 states and the District of Columbia have some version of an RPS today. Democrats want to preempt this federalist arrangement in favor of a more rigid national standard because most states include an escape clause, or "off ramp," to protect consumers if costs rise too quickly. Liberals say that the flexibility that states now enjoy inhibits the quasi-market for energy sources that are not competitive on their own.”


New York Times -- Obama Faces New Doubts on Pursuing Afghan War

David Sanger provides an excellent insight on the political crack in which President Obama finds himself on his Afghan War strategy of a time-limited, nation-building surge.

We see news today that Gen. David Petraeus is ramping up the nation-building component of Obama’s Afghan mission and scaling back the hunt for Taliban leaders. And as Sanger points out, the rush to quickly show some kind of measurable success in Afghanistan is driving the White House in a profound way. Obama needs results now.

Obama’s problem is that Democratic support for the conflict, already low, is weakening. That trend caused the president to become more reliant on NATO allies for troops and Republicans for appropriations. But the allies are starting to pull back and if the GOP decides that 600 dead soldiers and $100 billion deficit dollars a year are too high a price to pay for an uncertain objective, the president will find himself alone in support for his compromise plan.

It is especially bad news for Obama that his favorite Republican, GOP foreign policy sherpa Indiana Sen. Dick Lugar, is getting uncomfortable.

“For two months, Democrats in Congress have been holding up billions of dollars in additional financing for the war, longer than they ever delayed similar requests from President George W. Bush. Most Republican leaders have largely backed a continued commitment, but the White House was surprised the other day when one of Mr. Obama’s mentors on foreign policy issues in the Senate, Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, argued that ‘the lack of clarity in Afghanistan does not end with the president’s timetable,’ and that both the military and civilian missions were ‘proceeding without a clear definition of success.’

‘We could make progress for decades on security, on employment, good governance, women’s rights,’ he said, without ever reaching ‘a satisfying conclusion.’”