Tax Deal With a Side of Bacon

John Pritchett Cartoons
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John Pritchett Cartoons

BY JOHN FUND – Since House Democrats rejected the tax compromise that President Obama and GOP leaders negotiated last week, there has been a mad scramble to renegotiate the deal. Liberals are seeking an increase in the death tax rate, and partisans on both sides of the aisle are festooning the bill with “Christmas tree” provisions that look suspiciously like discredited earmarks.


This bill will only survive if, like ObamaCare, it is rushed through quickly enough that its defects don’t become apparent. The deal already includes nearly $5 billion in subsidies for corn-based ethanol; grants for wind and solar power; commuter tax breaks; tax preferences for NASCAR operators; and subsidies for Virgin Islands rum.

Even Al Gore, one of the original supporters of ethanol subsidies, is now attacking the program. He has been joined by 17 GOP and Democratic senators who called the ethanol tax breaks being added to the tax bill “fiscally indefensible.”

“Historically,” wrote the senators, “the government has helped a product compete in one of three ways: Subsidize it, protect it from competition or require its use. We understand that ethanol may be the only product receiving all three forms of support from the U.S. government at this time.”

During passage of ObamaCare, even Speaker Pelosi gave in to pressure and agreed that House members should have 72 hours to read the bill before they re-ordered one-sixth of the economy. Polls show overwhelming agreement outside the Beltway that it’s more important for Congress to get legislation done right than done quickly. A Polling Company survey found 95% agreeing that members of Congress shouldn’t vote on any bill they haven’t read in full.

Rep. Brian Baird, a Washington Democrat, and Rep. Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican, even filed a discharge petition to force a floor vote on requiring all non-emergency legislation to be posted online for 72 hours before passage. Speaker Pelosi wasn’t interested, but House Republicans took up the challenge and pledged to implement a 72-hour provision when they take over next month. However, there are no signs the tax bill will be subject to such a restriction.

Republicans who vote for the tax bill using business-as-usual rules are flirting with disaster. Haste can make for more than waste and lead to populist outrage that often takes on a life of its own. The same tea party activists who helped the GOP win a House majority can be filled with righteous outrage if they perceive Congress not learning lessons from the excesses of the past.

The response of GOP leaders is that the tax bill can’t be delayed because markets will be unsettled by the looming increases in taxes that are set to kick in on January 1, when the Bush tax cuts expire. But it’s House Democrats who currently bear the onus for any failure of the tax deal by rejecting the original deal worked out by President Obama and Republicans. They could still agree to bring the original deal to the floor shorn of all changes and adornments. And if they don’t, no one really believes that the new Congress that will be sworn in shortly will let the tax increases remain in place for long, since all sides agree they are essential to continuing the country’s fragile economic recovery.

Columnist Hugh Hewitt says John Boehner has a fundamental choice to make even before he becomes speaker. “He can in good conscience declare that the deal he agreed to has been buried under a mountain of pork and that, upon further reflection, he ought not to have gone along with it in the first place.” Or he can choose to allow the old Washington games to continue. If he chooses the latter, expect some real political blowback from Americans of all political persuasions in the coming days.