So on Friday, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi threw down the gauntlet on putting Republicans on the record on the middle class tax breaks, one way or another.
She re-iterated the threat on Sunday in a press release.
If Speaker Boehner refuses to schedule this widely-supported bill for a vote, Democrats will introduce a discharge petition to automatically bring to the floor the Senate-passed middle class tax cuts.Hmm? What is this discharge petition she's talking about? In the House, the Speaker may be king, but the minority does have one way to force an issue: a discharge petition. If 218 members sign a petition, a bill can be brought to the floor without the Speaker's consent. Of course, since the Speaker usually controls the majority, discharge petitions are usually not a threat to his power.
Usually. Except in circumstances when public pressure mounts and some members of the Speaker's party can be snatched away to sign a discharge petition.
That's what Pelosi is counting on. She is counting on the fact on something that's a win-win for the Democrats. Either enough Republicans will sign the petition to make their leadership's position on taxes moot, or they refuse the Democratic offer en masse and the Democratic members of Congress and the President take that on the road to the American people.
Imagine the President holding up the discharge petition with 20 or so signatures away from reaching a vote - 20 or so missing Republicans, to be exact. Now imagine further the optics of Nancy Pelosi going door to door to the offices of Republican members of Congress, with a slew of media and cameras going with her. Let's put it this way: whatever the outcome of the discharge petition, Democrats can't lose.
Do Republicans know that there is no way they can win this? Oh, yes. Don't let the poker face of Speaker Boehner fool you. Matt Lewis of the Daily Caller puts the Republican feeling in succinct words:
But the notion that Republicans have leverage is silly. It’s the same kind of happy thinking that led some to boldly predict a Romney victory. [...]Am I evil for thinking "Bwahahahahahaha" reading this?
Elections have consequences; they hold the cards. Republicans control the House — just enough levers of power to allow them to be blamed for obstruction.
Republicans are so screwed.
I have never been one to be surprised by the Obama team's strategic brilliance, but I also have never ceased marveling at its prowess. Let's consider the timeline since the negotiations began and since in his first press conference after the re-election, President Obama lays out his plan, and calls on Congress to pass an extension of the middle class tax breaks immediately.
- Tim Geithner goes to the Hill and offers an opening bid that is sensible, progressive, forward-looking and the exact same plan the president ran and won re-election on. Then on Sunday, just for fun, he goes around the Sunday shows asking "What's your plan?" to Republicans.
- President Obama takes the fight to the American people, back on the campaign trail, asking Americans to get involved.
- Nancy Pelosi gives House Republicans a deadline (Tuesday) to bring the middle class tax cuts to a vote, and readies a discharge petition if they won't.
Notwithstanding the threats to the economy should a deal not be reached by the end of the year - the reason why the president wants to get it done now - in other policy terms otherwise, the president gains leverage should we go off the cliff, so to speak. The public pressure will be far higher for a bill - any bill - that will bring the taxes back down for 98% of Americans to pass, and in that situation, Democrats will be free to put a lot of things into the new bill and dare the Republicans to oppose it - closing the carried interest loophole and taxing dividends and capital gains at the top marginal rate for the rich, for example.
Given that, why would the president not want to push it into next year? First, it will hurt our economy still, and that is his biggest concern. Second, having a deal done now gives us a chance to do big, encompassing tax reform next year, and the farther it's pushed off, the more bad blood, the less the possibility of that happening. Third, the president plans to keep Congress busy with a whole slew of other policy agenda next year, like immigration reform, education reform, and energy reform. And last but not least, Republicans may be blamed for us going over the cliff, but goodness knows they have enough of a crazy streak in them to go down in flames and taking the country down with them.
If Republicans know what's good for them, they will schedule a vote on the middle class tax breaks before Pelosi has a chance to whip up that discharge petition. There is zero possibility they get out of this with no damage, but they can limit the damage by cooperating now. They're screwed either way; they just have to decide how badly they want to be screwed.