Jennifer Rubin, writing at her Washington Post blog says that the tax deal debate, at least on the right, is between purists and dealmakers. She’s squarely on the dealmakers’ side. I think she’s looking at the discussion entirely the wrong way, but let me give you the heart of her argument first.

Are we really going to see large numbers of Republicans voting against the bill, which amounts to a vote to raise taxes? An aide to a Republican House leader says that there might be “pockets” of resistance, but he believes “most will support it so taxes do not increase.” A senior Senate staffer tells me, “We won’t be unanimous, but there is still strong support within the conference.” He declines, however, to speculate as to how many votes the GOP will lose.
You can understand why liberals would vote against it. Those faithful to soak-the-rich tax policy have a hard time justifying why they’d dump their principles for a mere one-year extension of unemployment benefits. But what’s the Republicans excuse, with a Democrat in the White House, to block a bill extending the Bush tax cuts? One GOP House staffer dismissed potential opposition to the bill, telling me last night that it is “idiotic to say that this will do nothing for the economy. Not raising taxes will of course have positive economic benefits. Would a longer extension be better? Sure. But raising now would be a disaster, so this will certainly help.”

I can come up with several reasons not to vote for a porked-up “Christmas Tree” that happens to contain a temporary extension for the current tax rates. One of the biggest, from a strictly political point of view, is that the deal the Republicans cut with the President isn’t the real deal and if they stick to it, Republicans are going to get had, big-time.

It turns out that Republicans were dealing with the wrong person. President Obama wasn’t speaking for Congressional Democrats, with whom the GOP will ultimately have to deal, and they don’t like the compromise one bit. In fact, they’re taking the tax deal as the opening bid in their negotiation with Republicans, which is exactly not what we want to happen. The GOP leadership, in its rush to hammer out an unnecessary compromise with a weak President, ceded the considerable advantage it will have when it takes the House and more of the Senate in January and yoked itself to President Obama on the tax issue.

Republicans could have met with Democrats and made a permanent extension of the current tax rates the only point of negotiation. From there, they could have gotten far better than a two-year extension and there’s a chance they could have gotten exactly what they wanted. What part of disarray is hard to understand? Instead, they reverted to their normal “compromise first, get tough never” form and made a deal that works well enough for them politically but it’s a fraction of the deal they could have gotten for the American people.

A couple more points. Rubin asks why Republicans would vote to raise taxes. Well, they wouldn’t, even if they voted against the tax deal. In truth, and this is a point the GOP should have been making loudly and at every opportunity all month long, Democrats have had it in their power to keep taxes from increasing for years, but they didn’t because they couldn’t restraint their pathological desire to punish the so-called rich. A “no” vote on the tax bill is a vote to strip the matter of taxes from the matter of pork politics as usual and silly power games from the critical issue of the economy. There is nothing in the world to stop Republicans from taking up the tax issue the first day they come back in January, and making sure the permanent rates they want are retroactive to January 1. No one’s taxes would increase. Heck, Democrats have passed several retroactive tax increases; what the Republican’s could do would be similar, but a whole lot better.

And, please, don’t tell me this is the best deal we can get. Republicans haven’t made a serious attempt to get a better deal and until they do, I don’t accept the assumption that a confused President and a fractured Democratic Party can block surging Republicans from getting us a good tax deal. If I do accept that, then I have to accept that when this deal ends in two years, Republicans won’t be able to stop it. How could they get another extension when they struggled so mightily just to get this one on paper? They certainly won’t have a greater majority and “Vote for Us or The Economy Gets It” isn’t exactly a rousing campaign  slogan going into 2012.

It’s not purist to believe that taxes ought to be low, nor is it purist to think that a Republican Party on the rise can beat a Democratic Party in free-fall on an economic issue. It just makes sense, but to believe it, you have to be willing to challenge a few assumptions. We might as well start now.

UPDATE: As a key vote gets underway in the Senate, I should note that I don’t expect much political courage from the GOP contingent. Too few of them really care what their votes do to the rest of us.

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