Normally, legislators who actually care about improving things are at an inherent disadvantage when negotiating with conservatives or venal “centrists.” Joe Lieberman can get his “get rid of something because it will piss off liberals this week even if it’s what I favored last week” amendment passed because his vote is necessary and even with his dumb amendment the bill improves the status quo. But it doesn’t work the other way, because if you refuse his demand and the bill goes down he doesn’t give a shit. Leverage comes from negotiating with people who really want to make a deal, and this dynamic favors reactionaries and nihilists.
The expiring Bush tax cuts, however, are an exception to this rule. Here, it’s wingnuts who desperately need to make a deal, and progressives and moderates who should happily be willing to walk away. Fortunately, as Matt and Barbara explain, Senate Democrats seem finally to have figured this out. Look, this strategy here couldn’t be more obvious — let the Bush tax cuts expire, and pass your own “Democratic middle-class tax cut.” If House Republicans vote for it, the policy is better and the popular tax cuts are associated with you. If Republicans just let all of the tax cuts expire, fine — it’s not the optimal time for an across-the-board tax increases, but the revenue will be useful, there will be plenty of opportunities to cut middle-class taxes, and Republicans are responsible for a big tax increase. Unlike in 2010, you’re not going to get anything for extending the cuts and you’re not facing a presidential election in 2 years which would make an anti-stimulus worse for progressive interests. Indeed, the play here is so obvious that any Senate Democrat who won’t go along with it is more committed to upper-class tax cuts than not only good policy but the interests of their party. What makes me unsure about how this will play out is that such Senate Democrats may well exist.