The Obama tax pledge — no tax hikes on families making less than $250, 000 — has been eviscerated by the bill. There are no less than seven categories of taxes on the supposedly non-rich and they are not insignificant. Union members with generous benefits, so-called “Cadillac” plans, are going to get smacked with new excise takes –unless of course they lose those generous benefits. This reality is not enough to sway supposedly moderate and conservative Democrats (and can we acknowledge when the chips are down they are all liberals?) to vote “no” when it comes to cloture, but it will certainly come up in the 2010 elections. (Five Democrats, including Nelson, voted to take the under-$250,000 tax provisions out, but their defense of the taxpayers evaporates when it matters.) Taxes are now a front-and-center issue in the run up to the 2010 election.
While Sarah Palin's family anecdotes are vigorously fact-checked, "Blue Dog" and self-proclaimed moderate Dems can comfortably skate by; talking conservative at home while voting liberal in DC. The worst is their pose of fiscal rectitude, even as certain senators make "principled" stands on social issues as a cover for diverting hundreds of billions of dollars to their state. It's one of the oldest cons in modern American politics and no different than the way Arafat used to talk peace to credulous western audiences while speaking war to clued-in Arabs. Do I sound bitter? Right now, I think I've got a right to be bitter.
A word, however, about the prospects for reform. Ben Nelson's sell-out, or buy-in depending on how you look at it, is a definite game-changer. It's hard to see how the bill doesn't come out of the Senate, and something eventually end up on Obama's desk. But, even after a bill passes and gets signed into law, it can be unpassed if there is a sufficient groundswell of support to do so. Japan's years-long effort to reform Japan Post, which was the center-piece of the Koizumi reforms, is being rolled back. In this country, the 1986 Medicare reforms were famously repealed after seniors revolted. There's no reason that couldn't happen now, especially when the bill is being rolled out with taxes coming in the first 3 years, but the actual reforms starting in 2014. That seems like an awful long time to be paying higher taxes for nothing.
A tax rebellion could well undermine reform before it can be implemented, but that would require some serious rabble rousing on the part of the GOP, and I'm just not sure they're up to the task. They just don't have the stomach or instincts for that sort of thing. Dems never let anything go. Just as an example, they fought like hell to preserve the estate tax, and managed to delay its repeal to 2010. Now, they're already talking about repealing the repeal and making it retroactive to Jan. 1, 2010. That's a display of political memory that should shame the GOP.
This is a major reform bill, passed literally in the dead of night, while the country is on vacation or snowed in. No one has any idea what's in the final bill, including its authors. That's dangerous for Americans, but also dangerous for Democrats, who will have to defend every silly thing in the bill, assuming someone challenges them on it. But, the usual manner of objecting - Mitch McConnell making the rounds on the Sunday talk shows, and the like - is not going to be enough.