Following his meeting with Congressional leaders Friday, President Obama declared he was "modestly optimistic" a deal could be reached to avoid the January 1st "fiscal cliff." But if Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell can't come to an agreement, the President announced he would demand an up-or-down vote on a stop-gap measure extending unemployment benefits for two million jobless Americans and providing tax relief to 98 percent of taxpayers.
Given the GOP's current 242 to 193 advantage in the House, that means it would only take 25 Republican representatives to join their Democratic colleagues to avert a $4 trillion, 10 year tax increase on all Americans. (After the new session starts in January, the needed tally will drop to 17.) Those 25 GOP votes to end the Bush tax cuts for the richest two percent shouldn't be too much to ask for. After all, in 2001 28 Democratic Congressmen and 12 Senators voted to enact the Bush tax cuts in the first place.
Despite losing the popular vote in 2000 and facing a 50-50 Senate, President Bush and Vice President Cheney claimed a mandate for their $1.3 trillion tax cut package. As Bush put it to Congressional leaders on December 18, 2000, "I think all four standing here understand that I campaigned on a clear view of tax relief, and that's what I'm going to bring to the floor of the House and the Senate." Cheney, as usual, was blunter:
"There is no reason in the world, and I simply don't buy the notion, that somehow we come to office now as a, quote, 'weakened president.' [...] We've got a good program, and we're going to pursue it."Which is pretty much what transpired.
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By the summer of 2001, President Bush and Vice President Cheney had their $1.3 trillion tax cut, courtesy of precisely the strategy Gloria Borger ridiculed as "cherry pick[ing] one or two Democrats here and there and get them to sign on to whatever tax bill you have." (They had to use the budget reconciliation process to do it, which is one of the reasons the Bush tax cuts were not made permanent from the start.)
Sadly, Republicans have long shown that turnabout is not fair play when it comes to bipartisanship. President Obama's 2009 stimulus bill received no GOP votes in the House and only three in the Senate. And in 1993, every single Republican on Capitol Hill voted against President Clinton's $496 billion bill raising upper income tax rates. As the New York Times explained at the time, that result was unprecedented:
An identical version of the $496 billion deficit-cutting measure was approved Thursday night by the House, 218 to 216. The Senate was divided 50 to 50 before Mr. Gore voted. Since tie votes in the House mean defeat, the bill would have failed if even one representative or one senator who voted with the President had switched sides...Of course, what was once unprecedented is now the routine for Congressional Republicans. The GOP hasn't just set the record for filibuster (to pass, Obama's stop-gap measure would need seven Republican votes to allow it to come to a vote in the Senate) and blocked Obama nominees at an unheard-of rate. No Republican in Congress voted for a tax increase since 1990.
Historians believe that no other important legislation, at least since World War II, has been enacted without at least one vote in either house from each major party.