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2001 Flashback: Dems Vote for $1.35 Trillion Bush Tax Cut

January 29, 2009

For those keeping score, Wednesday's final was Immovable Object 1, Irresistible Force 0. For all of his unprecedented outreach to Republican leaders on his economic stimulus package passed by the House yesterday - the poetry of post-partisanship, larding the bill with business tax provisions he opposed, meeting three times with GOP leaders, a rare presidential trip to Capitol Hill - Barack Obama was rewarded with no Republican votes.
And if Mark Halperin is to be believed, Obama's shutout yesterday is all his own fault. He "could have gone for centrist compromises," Halperin jaw-droppingly proclaimed, but instead "chose not to do that." As it turns out, the model of bipartisanship Mark Halperin must have in mind is George W. Bush in 2001.
Eight years ago, Bush was elevated to the White House along with his promise to slash taxes for the wealthiest Americans, including an end to the estate tax (lovingly rebranded by GOP spinmeisters as the "death tax."). And despite his loss of the popular vote to Al Gore and facing a 50-50 Senate, President Bush and his team made clear there would be no search for common ground with Democrats in pursuit of the 10-year, $1.6 trillion package. As Vice President Dick Cheney put it on December 17, 2000:

"As President-elect Bush has made very clear, he ran on a particular platform that was very carefully developed. It's his program, it's his agenda, and we have no intention at all of backing off of it. It's why we got elected.
So we're going to aggressively pursue tax changes, tax reform, tax cuts, because it's important to do so. [...] The suggestion that somehow, because this was a close election, we should fundamentally change our beliefs, I just think is silly."

Which is exactly what happened that spring. With only minor changes (the tax cuts were not permanent, the estate tax was lowered and not eliminated), the 2001 Bush tax cuts passed both houses of Congress with substantial numbers of Democrats voting in favor. While the House backed the original $1.6 trillion, the Senate (where Bush faced the opposition of John McCain and soon-be-ex Republican Jim Jeffords) initially voted for "only" a $1.2 trillion. Ultimately, the compromise conference bill came in $1.35 trillion and brought numerous Democrats along for the ride:

The bill passed the House by a vote of 240 to 154, with 28 Democrats and an independent joining all Republicans in voting yes. The Senate then passed it by a vote of 58 to 33.
Twelve Democrats joined 46 Republicans in support of the bill in the Senate. Two Republicans - John McCain of Arizona and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island - voted against it on a day when some members of Congress had already left town for the holiday weekend.

The rest, as they say, is history. Along with the second round of tax cuts passed in 2003, the Bush program as predicted eviscerated the Clinton-era budget surpluses as well as the $5.6 trillion surplus forecast by the CBO by the end of the decade. An analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) in 2006 estimated that the Bush tax cuts were responsible for 51% of the mushrooming federal deficit. (Making them permanent, the Center for American Progress concluded last year, would blow another $2 trillion hole in the budget over 10 years.) And as critics warned, President Bush handed a massive windfall to the wealthiest Americans who needed it least.
For his part, President Bush celebrated his triumph over Democrats, one in many acquiesced, by taking a victory lap where his campaign began. Appearing at a corn and soy bean farm in Iowa, Bush boasted of his efforts to end the estate tax. ''I heard somebody say, 'Well, you know, the death tax doesn't cause people to sell their farms,''' he added. ''I don't know who they're talking to in Iowa.'' As it turned out, Bush wasn't speaking to Harold Barnett, an Iowa farmer in attendance that day:

When Mr. Barrett was asked by reporters if he had ever known someone forced to sell a family farm in order to pay estate taxes, Mr. Barrett, 80, said that he had not.

As for his party's wavering in opposing the dangerous and irresponsible Bush tax cuts, Democratic Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) had this to say after the June 8, 2001 signing ceremony at the White House:

"Every day it looks like a better and better decision. In many respects, I think politically I helped the party. We Democrats would have been in trouble in 2002 just saying no to every one of the president's proposals.''

Now that's what Mark Halperin would call bipartisanship. Barack Obama's failure, apparently, was not being a Republican.

2 comments on “2001 Flashback: Dems Vote for $1.35 Trillion Bush Tax Cut”

  1. given the reaming the Dems took in 2002, not sure what Max Baucus' definition of trouble really is. good help us he's one of the guys Wyden is counting on to get health care reform thru the Senate.


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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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