It is now clear what the Republican strategy is - and I am afraid they will win. The news is all about how the House is not in session and nothing is being done. But this is part of a strategy to force the Senate and President to accept a one year extension of the Bush tax cuts.
In September, the House passed H.R. 8 which is a simple bill that extends the Bush tax cuts for one year, adjusts (alternative minimum tax) AMT for 2012 and 2013, and reauthorizes the accelerated depreciation incentive for businesses. At any time until the new Congress is seated, the Senate could pass this bill as written and the President could sign it and we would avert the automatic tax increases and fix the AMT.
Why would they pass this bill? Think about what is about to happen over the next four days. Nonstop freakout by the press about the impending cliff. The Republican answer is out there quietly now - but this will become more prominent: simply extend it a year while we work out a new compromise. If Harry Reid were to allow a vote on H.R. 8, it would pass easily and bipartisan. Could the President really veto something that would avoid much of the uncertainty over tax rates for this year and next year? Follow me below...
I mention this year because the AMT is not yet extended for 2012. This means millions of families will not know what they owe in taxes because, if the AMT is extended retroactively, it will not apply to them. But right now it does. This means that millions of tax returns will not be filed until we go sort out the fiscal cliff in the next few months. This uncertainty is a real issue as tax refunds will be delayed. Similarly, there is a real problem for payroll calculations if we go over the cliff as withholding will have to change for everyone if rates go up.
So to summarize, there are real concerns now about not knowing what tax rates will be in effect next week and whether the AMT applies to current tax year. Yes, the Republicans have acted in poor faith and are out of control. But remember that they find ways to keep control way beyond their numbers. And I believe this is another case where they have a good chance of prevailing.
The bottom line is that Senator Reid and the President could easily avert the tax uncertainty. I personally prefer to go over the cliff and keep the negotiating leverage. But I am not convinced the Democratic leadership will hold strong. For all his troubles last week, John Boehner has played this well - by keeping the House out of session, there is only one way to avert the cliff: pass H.R. 8 in the Senate and have the President sign it.
What concerns me the most is that this critical moment is upon us and there is very little awareness in progressive circles that our leadership is about to give up its strongest leverage. Harry Reid is talking exceptionally tough today about Republicans - is that because he is backed in a corner?
Calling senators will not work to stop this as the Republicans in the senate will vote for H.R. 8 along with some Democrats. The only way to make sure we go over the cliff is for Harry Reid to not allow the vote and/or for President Obama not to sign H.R. 8.