Congress turned a significant corner last week, with Republicans winning two critical victories on issues that were at the top of the list when Americans put them in power back in 1994 — taxes and spending. Each victory served to draw a sharp contrast between the political parties, and may have improved Republican fortunes in 2008.
First there was the House midnight compromise on the energy (or anti-energy) bill. Embarrassed by the tax hikes and anti-energy provisions in the bill, House Democrats withheld details of this legislation until only hours before the vote. The Republican caucus united in opposition to the bill, with only 14 Republicans defecting. But more important (at least politically) was the fact that every so-called “Blue Dog” Democrat — supposedly a moderate breed — voted for the energy bill and thus every tax increase therein.
Four of these Democrats have signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, the vow to never raise income taxes that has been signed by 196 House members, 42 senators, and President George W. Bush. Each of these Democrat signers — Gene Taylor, Robert Andrews, Ben Chandler, and Brad Ellsworth — has in fact violated this pledge at every opportunity, four times in total and we’re only halfway through this Congress. Put another way, a full 100 percent of Democrat signers broke the pledge, while 94 percent of Republicans kept it.
This is significant. Not only have the Democrat pledge breakers handed their opponents ammunition for next year’s election, but there is now a clear affiliation between the current class of Democrats in Congress and tax increases. Pledges in writing and claims of “Blue Dog” or moderate status do absolutely nothing to mitigate a Democrat’s propensity to vote for tax increases. Similarly, there is no room in Nancy Pelosi’s party for moderates on the tax-and-spend issue.
In effect, the Democrat leadership has guided its vulnerable caucus members onto the hangman’s scaffold, slipping a noose around each member’s neck. And in last week’s second Republican victory, the trap door may have just opened.
Senate Democrats were finally forced to back down on PAYGO rules in order to compensate for the $50 billion patch of the alternative minimum tax (AMT). Since this was a unique phenomenon, it made news — and for the first time this year Americans not obsessed with politics learned a couple of important facts: First, so-called PAYGO rules require tax increases to pay for any continuation of tax cuts or incentives. In essence, it is now a violation of the rules of the Democrat Congress to pass tax cuts. Second, Republicans opposed those rules and won.
If GOP incompetence or a White House betrayal don’t get in the way, the Democrats are going to continue to highlight the gulf between the two parties on tax policy. And if the 2008 election is about taxes, the Democrats will lose the House.