But Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid aren’t stupid. They did what they had to do. This was the best of a bad series of choices.
Here were their options:
1) Bring up the middle-class tax cut bill free-standing in the House. The Republicans would offer a “Motion to Recommit” to the Ways and Means Committee with instructions to include the tax cuts for the rich. With Blue Dog support, it would have won. No go.
2) Bring up the middle-class tax cut bill freestanding in the Senate. The Republicans would offer an amendment to include the tax cuts for the rich. It could have won: 41 Republicans plus Lieberman, Lincoln, Pryor, Landrieu, Ben Nelson, Bayh, Hagan, Dorgan, Baucus, Conrad, and then maybe Bill Nelson, Webb, or Warner. Then where would you be?
3) Bring up the middle-class tax cut bill free-standing in the House under a “Suspension of the Rules,” which requires a two-thirds vote and is not subject to the Motion to Recommit. My favorite option, because theoretically, the Republicans would be in a bind. Either they would vote no, in which case they would have voted no on a tax cut, or they would have voted yes, in which case the Dems win and they tick off their base. BUT — they probably would have split, meaning that the Dems would not have not gotten a win AND the partisan difference would have been muddied.
In other words, there was no way to get an actual win under these circumstances. You could only get a loss that would muddy the partisan split.
Under these circumstances, Pelosi and Reid decided not to have the vote. Why? Because you can still make the issue about it being the “Republicans holding the bill hostage.” You can still say that the Republicans won’t vote for a middle-class tax cut unless they borrow $700 billion dollars to give to millionaires and billionaires. President Obama still has the biggest megaphone in the country, and to his great credit, he is using it. Just an hour or so after the decision was announced, he was blaming the Republicans for holding middle-class tax cuts hostage.
In other words, you can go to the country with a clear message, and without the picture of Democrats reprising the circular-firing squad. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best of all possible situations given the unprecedented plutocratic obstructionism of the GOP.
Ironically, though, critics like Marshall and Chait could undermine the strategy if the meme becomes “Democrats cave.” If instead the meme becomes, “Democrats refuse to borrow $700 billion to pay off billi0naires,” then it looks like they are stronger, not weaker. Marshall and Chait are calling it like they see it, and I take their points, but they are creating some bad spin here: let’s not let the complaints become a self-fulfilling prophecy.