In Friday’s lead New York Times story, White House correspondent Jackie Calmes again finds the Democrats with political momentum on the policy front, as she has, wrongly, on several occasions in the past, shown by the headline over her optimistic April 2 story, “Jobs Growth Could Stump Obama’s Critics.” (Nope.) This time, it’s Democrats allegedly putting the GOP in a “political bind” over cutting the payroll tax, due to the stubborn refusal by Republicans to raise taxes on "the rich."
Here’s the full headline deck to Friday’s lead story: “Democrats Look To Payroll issue For Upper Hand – Seek Extension of Cuts – Hoping to Paint G.O.P. as Favoring Wealthy – Two Bills Fail."
After struggling all year for an economic message that resonates broadly with Americans in hard times, President Obama and Congressional Democrats have settled on one they believe can carry through next year’s election as they use a fight over payroll taxes to portray Republicans as defenders of the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.
With Mr. Obama leading the charge in Washington and political swing states, Senate Democrats have put proudly antitax Republicans in the position of opposing a tax cut for more than 160 million mostly middle-class Americans because they object that it includes a tax on about 350,000 people, those with more than $1 million in annual taxable income.
But politically, Democrats believe that they have already won this latest skirmish in the message wars. And some exasperated Republicans acknowledge that they are losing the exchange; party leaders have worked this week to bring the rank and file in line behind the tax cut.
Democrats have concluded from the payroll tax debate that Republicans are vulnerable over their opposition to any new taxes on the wealthy in a way they were not when Democrats proposed such taxes for deficit reduction. So they have reprised an old message -- that Democrats fight for the middle class, Republicans for the rich -- and are likely to sound it through 2012, in hopes of blunting the headwinds they face as unemployment remains high.
Mr. Obama, in setting this debate in motion in September, when he introduced his job-creation plan, has tapped into the widespread sense of income inequality -- fighting for “the 99 percent” -- that gave rise to the Occupy Wall Street movement. But Democrats would not be in their current strong position but for the fact that Republicans, for the first time in memory, contested a tax cut and then insisted that the reductions be paid for.
Republican leaders’ struggle this week to find a strategy that could unite their party reflected the political bind it is in. Nearly 7 in 10 Americans said the policies of Republicans in Congress favored the rich, a New York Times/CBS News poll found in October.
Calmes seems awfully confident in her political pronouncements of Democratic revival. Does that mean Calmes thinks the GOP "could lose the House", as she stated on Washington Week in Review in September regarding the GOP's refusal to pass yet another Obama "stimulus" plan? We'll see in November 2012.