In the wake of John Boehner's statement yesterday that he wouldn't hold President Obama's middle-class tax cuts hostage to the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, Republicans have been scrambling to make it clear that yes they are adamantly in favor of cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans.
Leading the way: Rep. Paul Ryan who said of Republicans: "We do not want to negotiate down." Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell proposed legislation extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and was joined by Jon Kyl who said Republicans "absolutely" favored McConnell's plan. Both Mike Pence and Eric Cantor chimed in as well, each of them making it clear that they completely supported extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.
As I noted earlier today, these Republicans all are trying to link Bush's unpopular and controversial tax cuts for the wealthy with Obama's middle-class tax cuts. They want tax relief for the wealthy to hitch a ride on whatever legislative vehicle extends tax relief to the middle class. And while they probably won't go so far as to actually hold the middle class tax cuts hostage, they certainly are threatening to do so in the hopes that Democrats will chicken out.
But even as Republicans are tripping over themselves, it would be a huge mistake for Democrats to kick back and enjoy the GOP squabbling. Democrats need to keep up the pressure, otherwise they run the risk of allowing the GOP to regroup and regain the political advantage.
(If you doubt that this is the moment to strike, check out this comment from GOP Rep. Jeb Hensarling: "Out there in theoretical land might there be something that we vote on that is half a loaf? I suppose so, but we have to see that bill." When you've got Republicans talking about "half a loaf," you know they are playing defense. )
Fortunately, there's an easy way to get that job done: call the GOP's bluff. Schedule a vote on Obama's tax cuts for the middle-class (Greg Sargent reports that this is still on the table) and simultaneously give Republicans the opportunity to have a debate and vote and the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. That way, the thing everybody agrees on -- Obama's tax cuts -- can get passed into law, while the controversial thing -- Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy -- can get a full and honest debate. Though it's obvious that Republicans hope to muddy the waters, these are two different issues, and Democrats can -- and should -- treat them as such.