Yesterday, Rep. Adam Smith of Washington's 9th District, was interviewed by left-wing radio talk show host Stephanie Miller. They discussed the proposed tax cut deal at length. I've transcribed part of the interview, because I believe it is worth reading. According to Rep. Smith, he will "absolutely" vote no when the deal is presented to Congress. He went on to say that he believes there is "an excellent chance" that other Congressional Democrats will ultimately oppose the deal.
Rep. Adam Smith has served fourteen years in Congress and his voting record speaks for itself. (Details regarding his voting record can be found here: http://www.votesmart.org/... ) No one could reasonably accuse him of being callous or lacking empathy for the poor and the unemployed (though I'm sure some will).
It has been suggested that those opposed to Obama's deal don't understand realpolitik, and therefore, don't realize the necessity of supporting this deal. The same cannot be said of Rep. Smith. Whether or not one agrees with his position, presumably, after more than a decade in Congress, he knows exactly how things are done in Washington, D.C.
The transcript is below the fold.
Source: Hour 1, Dec 7, 2010 podcast of the Stephanie Miller Show. Unfortunately, I can’t post a link to the podcast, you have to be a subscribing member to listen, but there are other Steph fans at Kos who could certainly verify that the conversation I've transcribed occurred, if need be. The interview began at the 20 minute mark on the podcast.
Rep. Smith: You know, I’m truly upset about this whole tax deal. You know, I think it’s unbelievable on a couple of levels. I mean, number one, you know, we just all spent the last year listening to Republicans lecturing us about how we had to have a Republican Congress, because the Democrats were fiscally irresponsible, and they weren’t going to get the deficit under control...
They never once said anything other than the fact that they wanted to cut taxes to increase the deficit by three trillion dollars. But you know, now, here we are, the Republicans cutting a deal that’s going to add almost a trillion dollars to the deficit. And there is no way to be fiscally responsible and extend all the Bush tax cuts. It’s simply impossible. You know, and I understand the difficult position the White House is in. You know, they don’t want to be, you know, raising taxes come January - but, you know, there are a lot of difficult positions we’re all in. You gotta make tough choices, and this certainly was not one of those tough choices we need to make.
Miller: Congressman, but for those of us that just, you know, may not understand all the inner workings of Congress, is there a way to stop this? ‘Cause I know it seems that the jury’s out today on what’s going to happen with Democrats. I mean, obviously, Bernie Sanders has said he might filibuster. There – uh – I don’t know, is there a chance Democrats aren’t going to support this?
Rep Smith: No, I think there’s an excellent chance that Democrats aren’t going to support this. I mean, you – you know, the unemployment extension, I guess, is the main thing that Democrats are concerned - with the unemployment rate being higher -
Miller: Yeah. It’s unconscionable that poor unemployed people –
Rep Smith: I know.
Miller: - got held hostage by the Republicans, in this whole – uh – situation, isn’t it?
Rep Smith: No - I mean, when you think about it – I’m not sure exactly what the numbers are, the details are just coming out, but I think it’s safe to say that 90%-95% of the money on this is going to the tax breaks, and just a tiny, tiny, little bit is going to the unemployment insurance. And, you know, so it’s – it’s not a good deal on that level...
Miller: So, Congressman – uh – you know, the problem is what now? I mean, I know that – that people, many people have said, you know, everybody has advice for the President, obviously. Like, “Oh just let ‘em expire.”
Rep Smith: Yes -
Miller: But then aren’t we in a weaker position? Then what happens in January? Then a lot of people go without their unemployment insurance, ‘cause Republicans really don’t care about that. Right? They’re not playing chicken. They’ve already let the unemployment benefits run out. So then what happens in January? Then we try to pass – the – the Republicans are never – they’re going to be in a stronger position, and they’re never going to let, you know, tax cuts for just the - the you know, the middle class pass, are they?
Rep Smith: Well look, it’s quite possible that we won’t be able to extend the unemployment benefits if the Republicans are completely unwilling to do it. But you know, there is a point at which, you know, you have to make the best deal that is available or you have to live with the situation you’re in. And I just don’t think, you know, giving away, you know, two years of tax cuts is worth the “get” in this case. I think the answer is - we stand firm. And I’ll tell you, this is incredibly important for the future of the economy.
You know, I voted against the Bush tax cuts back in 2001, and – and I don’t think there’s anything that we’ve done during my time that had a more devastating impact on our economic future then that tax cut package, and here we are, talking about extending it further. I mean, keep in mind, not only do these tax cuts go overwhelmingly to the people at the top end of the scale – who, by the way, did just fine in the 1990s – the numbers are so great they drive the deficit higher, they also create the must unbelievably complicated tax code in the history of the world. So that we have an insufficient, wasteful tax code, that doesn’t even collect as much revenue as it could have – I mean, it’s just, it’s bad on top of bad, and I just think we just have to stand up and say, “No.” Now come January, if the taxes go up, then you can talk about doing tax reform in January and February and March, and if we want to make some of it retroactive, uh, to protect people, we can do that.
Rep. Smith: But we don’t need to cut this deal right now...
I mean, we’re not going to get a better deal, um, in some senses - if you look at the spending side of it, we’re not going to get a better deal in terms of helping the unemployed. But we absolutely can get a better deal in terms of what, you know, what our tax laws are going forward. And you know, we’re still going to control the Senate – we’re still going to control the White House. And everyone’s running around Washington, D.C., acting like the Republicans have taken over. Well, they haven’t...
Miller: Congressman Smith, so are you a “No” vote?
Rep. Smith: Uh, absolutely, yes.
Miller: Um hmmm. And -
Rep. Smith: Yes, I’m a “No.”
Miller: (Laughter) Yes, I’m a “No.” Um, you know, the thing you hear though – I mean, again, I’m certainly not a top economist, but you hear that, you know, economists are telling the President that this would hurt the larger economy. That’s basically how he framed this, right? That this is going to allow – make us backslide at a time that’s obviously very fragile. Do you buy that?
Rep. Smith: Well, I don’t’ buy it in the following sense – this is an argument I’ve had about, you know, the stimulus and everything else. Look, if you cut taxes, if you spend more money, in the short term it helps the economy, okay. That’s one of the things that drove me crazy about this last election was people saying “Oh, the stimulus didn’t work!” Look, you spend 800 billion dollars, it helps. I’ve heard all these jokes, “Almost - even if you just threw it off the top of a building in New York City, it would help, okay.” The question is what is the long term impact versus the short term gain? And we have got to build a sustainable economy, not an economy based on debt. That is what got us into this problem in the first place. Government debt, individual debt, business debt, people borrowing and spending to spend more money than they had, to artificially prop-up the economy in the short term – that was never sustainable. Okay? So yes, okay, sure, if taxes were lower it would help us for a few months, but it’s also going to drive the debt through the ceiling and maintain a tax code that full-bore bad for the economy – point number one.
Point number two, we have to have an honest conversation with the American people about this. I mean, everyone complains about the deficit and the debt, then it’s like “Well, you know, cutting that spending would hurt, increasing that tax would hurt.” Yes, but if you care about the debt, you have to confront those realities. And here’s a reality for you – there is no way to get the deficit under control without increasing taxes. It is utterly and completely impossible...
Miller: I’ve even – I even had a lot of listeners write and say “I don’t care – I don’t care about my lousy $600 tax cut, I’m happy to give it up.” So that rich people have to pay theirs, too, you know?
Rep Smith: Right. These are the choices we have to make, and we’re still running around acting like there’s an easy way out of this. There’s not. It’s fourteen trillion dollars, going up by almost a trillion a year going forward. There’s no easy way out of this. This – this deal sort of represents thinking from the late ‘90s, when the debt was coming down, and we could cut deals like this. That’s not where we’re at.
Miller: But Congressman, I guess, part of my point is, are you – you know – are you – uh, I guess, this is a moral dilemma. Are you okay with letting, uh, you know, people run out of the unemployment benefits, that’s run out at Christmas, in order to make our point, you know, politically?
Rep. Smith: Well, let me put it to you this way. I’m not – you know, I’m not “okay” with it, but if the price is eight hundred billion dollars in tax cuts, what sort of programs are going to be available for people three, four, five years from now? You know, when all of this money goes out the door. Think about unemployment benefits right now - that they’re going to run out for some people. Okay, well, what about Medicare? What about Medicaid? What about education? What about infrastructure? What about unemployment benefits in the future? If we give away all of the money now, we are going to be hurting vastly more people in the long run then we’re going to be helping in the short run. That’s the way to think about it.
He makes a valid point. As liberals we may be tempted simply to view this issue in empathetic terms; none of us wish to see two million people suffer. Still, we must seriously consider the long term ramifications of the deal Obama is proposing. Smith posed a very pertinent question, just what sort of programs are going to be available to help the needy "three, four, five years from now" if we extend the Bush tax cuts? We are being told that two million people will suffer if we reject this deal, but how many people will suffer in the years to come if we agree to it? We must consider this, no matter how callous it may seem, because our nation's economic well-being depends upon our congressional representatives making the correct decision.
As for the suggestion that the tax cuts will be allowed to expire in 2012, if we agree to the deal, I find that belief absurdly optimistic. If the Bush tax cuts aren't allowed to expire now, they will likely remain in place for many years to come. The Republicans know the odds are in their favor and (with a few notable exceptions) they are currently celebrating what they view as a victory.
As debate rages in Washington over the Bush tax cuts, set to expire at the end of this year, the Bush administration officials who initiated the steep tax cuts are celebrating what they see as an apparent victory, since signs point to a temporary extension of all the cuts. The Daily Beast’s Howard Kurtz interviewed Dan Bartlett, Bush’s former communications director, and Andy Card, Bush’s former chief of staff, among others, and they were pleased at how the expiration debate has played out:
“We knew that, politically, once you get it into law, it becomes almost impossible to remove it,” says Dan Bartlett, Bush’s former communications director. “That’s not a bad legacy. The fact that we were able to lay the trap does feel pretty good, to tell you the truth.”
“[Democrats] are definitely on the defensive,” Card says. “The fact that the 10-year clock ran out now had a big impact on the election.”