The dominant liberal media culture has spun the last days of the Democrats’ lame-duck Congress into an unbroken string of legislative victories for President Obama and his party.
But it is hard, if not impossible, to reconcile the nightly news spin of the last couple of weeks with the president’s 0-2 record on the two most far-reaching bills of this session: tax cuts to get the economy moving again and a $1.1 trillion, fat-filled budget.
The former was a total policy capitulation by Mr. Obama, who fought against the Bush tax cuts night and day for the past two years, only to cave under Republican pressure in an 11th-hour deal to continue all the Bush tax cuts, including those for the wealthiest Americans, and even extend them to high-end estate taxes and big business.
The latter was the nearly 2,000-page, earmarked-filled, omnibus Senate spending bill that the president signaled he would sign, only to have it pulled off the floor by Democratic leader Harry Reid to avoid a humiliating defeat for the White House and the Democrats.
They were forced to settle for a scaled-down continuing resolution that will temporarily keep spending at current levels for the next two months until replenished GOP forces take their seats in January and begin to exert control over the appropriations process.
True, in between, Mr. Obama won victories on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the food-safety bill (let’s hope it is more effective than the previous food-safety bills), and the New START nuclear weapons treaty with Russia.
But in terms of what the voters were overwhelmingly concerned about in this midterm election year - a weak, jobless recovery that the Federal Reserve called “disappointingly slow” and runaway spending that has dangerously plunged our country into unprecedented debt - the tax and budget bills were paramount.
And for Mr. Obama, they represented failure, retreat and, ultimately, capitulation to Republican pressure and the “shellacking” he and his party took in the elections.
Perhaps the most humiliating manifestation of this came when the Democrat-run Senate passed the GOP-structured tax-cut package by a staggering vote of 81 to 19.
The death of the Democrats’ grotesque, big-spending omnibus budget bill last Thursday night was icing on the cake for Republicans. “You did it,” a jubilant Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and the GOP’s Senate campaign committee chairman, e-mailed to party supporters Friday. “Facing pressure from you, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced … he was withdrawing” the bill.
Much of the credit for the bill’s loss of support also goes to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who convinced seven GOP senators with earmarks in the bill, including Mr. Cornyn, to announce they would vote against it.
At the same time, Mr. Cornyn’s campaign committee sent dozens of press releases warning Senate Democrats who will face re-election in 2012 that they “would be held to account if they rammed through the omnibus spending bill.”
The pressure to cut spending will only get stronger when the new Congress begins next month, minus dozens of defeated Democrats. If Mr. Obama and Mr. Reid think they’ve got problems with Republicans now, wait until the six new GOP senators take their seats in January.
But the really heavy lifting on spending is going to take place in the Republican-run House under soon-to-be Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio.
Sixty-three new House GOP lawmakers, elected last month on a pledge to clamp down on spending, guarantees that the Obama gravy train is about to end.
The voters spoke loud and clear Nov. 2 that they want Congress to change course and cut the size and cost of government, reduce the tax burden on working Americans, and pass incentives to spur stronger economic growth and new job creation.
The president’s bipartisan deficit commission’s report earlier this month proposed a number of cost-cutting measures and tax-cutting plans that would do this. One of its most promising proposals would broaden the income-tax base by eliminating a variety of tax breaks and loopholes that would allow much lower tax rates, including a top 28 percent marginal tax rate for individuals and businesses.
That idea is drawing support from conservative lawmakers and even Mr. Obama, who seems to be talking a lot more about “tax reduction” and “economic growth” since the elections.
Clearly, class warfare against “millionaires and billionaires” wasn’t working in an economy where 17 percent of the nation’s labor force was either unemployed or underemployed.
The two-year tax-cut extension that Mr. Obama signed into law is a good beginning to get this economy back on its feet, but a lot more incentives will be needed to push the gross domestic product growth rate to 4 percent or higher if we are to bring unemployment down to 4 percent to 5 percent. A 35 percent top tax rate is still too high to make that happen.
Permanent pro-growth tax cuts are needed next year and are a virtual certainty if the 10 percent unemployment rate shows no signs of significant decline.
Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist.