Bush's Peel Off or Piss Off Strategy on Taxes

  • March 6th, 2001 -- Bush Miffing Dems
  • Here we have yet another sign that President Bush's tactic of reaching out with his fists may not be having the intended results.

    This article from The Washington Post says Democrats from Bush-leaning states don't seem particularly intimidated by his pushy visits. And a number seem like they're getting pissed. Word is also that John Breaux, the Senator from Louisiana, is miffed at Bush. He apparently feels that the Bushies played him for a fool, trotting him out as a symbol of bipartisanship and then pursuing a partisan, uncompromising agenda.

    I've also gotten the impression, from a number of recent conversations that the White House is increasingly looking at this whole effort as the Clinton 1993 model. That is to say, rely on near total support from your own party, little or no support from the opposition, and ram it through with only a vote or two to spare.

    Democrats half fear that Bush will offer them a compromise later on, bring over a bunch of Dems, and then claim political credit for an improved bill. But they may not be figuring on how little room Bush has to compromise -- given the importance the tax cut has for keeping members of the conservative coalition in line and quiet about policy priorities he'd rather they didn't bring up.

    To Bush, Rove, et.al. this is simply not a fight they can afford to lose or a struggle they can afford to give up on; and that argument is one they'll be making VERY strenuously
    to wavering Senate Republicans a couple months from now.

    More on this later.

  • March 4th, 2001 -- Bush's Peel Off or Piss Off Strategy
  • Here's a very interesting article in today's Washington Post. The title hits at the "honeymoon is over" storyline (as though there ever really was a honeymoon between the President and the Democrats on Capitol Hill). The more interesting story is the brass tacks game the President and his Hill allies are playing on the tax bill and the way it's stiffening resolve among Democrats -- even conservative Democrats.

    The big fear the Democrats have had from the start is that Bush would try to peel off enough conservative Democrats to pass his legislation and have the appearance of
    bipartisan cooperation. That would have put Dems in a very bad position -- and the prospect had them very scared. Especially after Zell Miller jumped ship without even being pushed.

    But there are two ways for a Republican president to pursue this peel off strategy. One is to come to the center -- or the center-right -- and do business with just enough conservative Democrats to get the numbers he needs. He'd listen to them, make nice with them, compromise with them, and so forth.

    The other way is to try to bully them, which is what the Post article says he's doing -- sending direct mail into the districts of conservative Democrats, trying to get their constituents to lean on them to get with the Bush program.

    But this latter approach is a high stakes game -- it's very easy to piss people off by doing this, but not nearly as easy to get people to vote your way.

    Bush has also had his House allies push through his tax cut on straight party-line votes in the House Ways & Means Committee, which again looks a "my way or the highway" approach.

    According to this article, this swaggering approach to legislative strategy has managed to get conservative Texas Democrats pretty peeved at the new president.

    If Bush has managed to piss off Charlie Stenholm then Bush is really up a creek.

  • March 3rd, 2001 -- Bull$&%@ Math
  • The Washington Post says George W. Bush is hawking an alternative statistical analysis of his tax plan which says that only 22 percent of his tax cut will go to the top 1 percent of earners as opposed to the 43 percent number Democrats have been citing. As the Post notes, much of the difference is due to the fact that Bush's new analysis doesn't figure in the repeal of the estate tax (also known as the "death tax" to many Republican whackos) or a number of other cuts which only kick in after 2006. And of course pretty much all of the estate tax repeal benefits go to the very wealthy.

    Dishonest numbers aside though, this is a very positive development for opponents of Bush's plan. Very positive. Why? Simple. Because this is playing ball entirely on the Democrats' turf. As any Republican strategist will tell you, Republicans don't win tax debates with arguments over distributional equity. A sign of how they're getting dragged off message is Bush's crew getting into almost daily dust-ups with Washington Memo?s friends at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities and Citizens for Tax Justice.

    Second of all, to be frank, Bush's numbers are completely bogus. And I don't just mean the standard sense in which everyone's numbers are a bit different. I mean he's not
    including the estate tax! What's that about? This isn't fuzzy math. It's bull$&%@ math. And very easily exposed as such.

    Therefore, not only is Bush starting to fight this out on unfriendly territory, he's also starting the fight with a batch of numbers that are transparently bogus. So before we even get to the argument over equity we're going to have a sub-argument about why Bush is trying to pass off these phony numbers.

    P.S. If you're not bored to tears by this tax stuff, check out this new fact sheet from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities which notes how the numbers Bush himself is relying on are now showing that the true cost of the plan is roughly $2 trillion.

  • March 2nd, 2001 -- GOP Drops Kids
  • Haven't the Republicans in the House potentially opened up a big tactical opportunity for the Democrats? The Bush tax bill is heavily tilted toward tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans. But although it does include meaningful cuts for many middle-income families, the great proportion of those cuts aren't related to drops in marginal rates. They're tied to the expansion of the child tax credit from $500 to $1,000.

    The version of the tax bill currently racing through the House doesn't include that credit, making the tax cut for middle-income families almost laughably paltry.

    This Washington Memo adapted from Joshua Micah Marshall's Talking Points