Republicans Voting Against AIG Bonus Tax Bill?

Today the House will consider legislation that seeks to use taxation to recoup AIG's bonuses:

The House will vote this afternoon on a bill that would impose a 90 percent income tax on $165 million in bonuses distributed to employees of the troubled insurance giant American International Group, the first of multiple steps that lawmakers are expected to take to quell public furor and tighten government control over AIG and other financial sector recipients of federal bailout aid.

Debate is under way now. While it would at first seem to be a no-brainer for any member of Congress seeking to quell the populist ire in the country, it's actually not entirely clear how Republicans are going to vote on this. Remember, they're not big fans of higher taxes; they want to "let people have more money in their pockets to do with as they wish", even if that money is ours and even if those pockets belong to folks who got us into this mess in the first place.

So Republicans are trying to change the subject.

Republican leaders in both the House and the Senate criticized the measures and accused both the White House and Congressional Democrats of trying to shift attention from what the GOP considers to be lax oversight of bailout efforts. "It sounds to me like these guys are trying to cover their tracks," said  Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), the No. 2 Republican leader.

And here's Eric Cantor bobbing and weaving on the question of how he's going to vote on the bill. "It's terrible tax policy but I'm telling you one thing, I'm wanna get those bonus payments back in."

Why does this vote put Republicans in such a tough spot? David Waldman explains.

Looks like the Republicans may throw their weight against the TARP bonus tax.

Yep. Boss Limbaugh has issued his veto, and the GOP pays fealty.

But talk about trying to have your cake and eat it too! Limbaugh says they have to reject the bill as excessive, but Republicans are afraid to do that. Despite being idiots, they're not idiots.

So what's the hook? They oppose the 90% tax, they claim, because... it's not 100%!

Yep. That's actually it. That's what Boehner just said on the floor.

Waldman thinks this bill may go down because of a lack of Republican support (it needs 2/3 to pass.) It's going to be very difficult for Republicans to explain why they opposed this, which makes it all the more brilliant as a legislative weapon: it reframes taxes as a populist tool of justice, the hero, vs. the villain Republican orthodoxy insists it is.

Update [2009-3-19 14:4:48 by Todd Beeton]:Waldman's watching the debate. Here's his take on one wingnut's principled (not) opposition to the bill:

Republican idiot Lynn Jenkins (R-KS-02) says the tax bill is flawed b/c it doesn't recoup 100% of the bonuses -- "the $165 million in bonuses AIG recently made must be recaptured," and "the legislation voted on today will not recapture 100% of taxpayers' money," then says "it sets a dangerous precedent for punishing individuals by taxing past behavior deemed inappropriate." Total. F-ing. Moron.

Sounds like the standard GOP talking points of those opposing the bill.

Update [2009-3-19 14:35:25 by Todd Beeton]:TPM has Grover Norquist's take on the AIG bonus tax bill: you can vote for it IF there are other tax cuts to balance it out. Wow, ain't he nice.

Grover Norquist, the top anti-tax activist in the Republican Party, has given ABC an answer about whether Republicans can vote for the AIG-bonus tax and still be in accordance with the anti-tax pledge that the vast majority of them have signed with Norquist's group, Americans for Tax Reform.

The answer: Yes, you can -- but only if it includes additional offsetting cuts in taxes or spending, too. Norquist seems to acknowledge here that the AIG tax is itself a kind of spending decrease -- the government is taking back money it already spent -- but he wants more tax decreases, too.

Also, Greg Sargent has John Boehner's statement on his intention to vote No.

They're voting on the bill now.

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Cantor Tries To Reject And Denounce The Limbaugh Doctrine

This morning on This Week, George had this exchange with Eric Cantor:

STEPHANOPOULOS: So the Rush Limbaugh approach of hoping the president fails is not the Eric Cantor House Republican approach?

CANTOR: George, absolutely not and I don't think anyone wants anything to fail right now, we have such challenges.

Silly whip. Here's Limbaugh at CPAC yesterday:

"This notion that I want the president to fail, this shows you the problem we've got. This is nothing more than common sense and to not be able to say it? Why in the world would I want what we just described: rampant government growth, welfare that is not being created yet is being spent? What is in this, what is possibly in this that any of us want to succeed?

Very interesting that Cantor is rejecting and denouncing the Limbaugh doctrine of failure, which got such a rousing response from the crazies at CPAC yesterday. Could it be that Cantor and company suddenly see Limbaugh's rhetoric and the notion that Limbaugh is the party's putative leader as a liability?

Smarter than I thought. Of course it's a liability, which is why on Face The Nation this morning Rahm Emanuel made sure everyone understands who exactly is speaking for the Republican Party:

SCHIEFFER: Who do you think now speaks for the Republican Party?

EMANUEL: You just named him: it is Rush Limbaugh. He has laid out his vision, in my view. And he said it clearly. I compliment him for that. He's been very up front and I compliment him for that. He's not hiding. He's asked for President Obama and called for President Obama to fail. That's his view. And that's what he has enunciated. And whenever a Republican criticizes him, they have to run back and apologize to him and say they were misunderstood. He is the voice and the intellectual force and energy behind the Republican Party. He has been up front about what he views and hasn't stepped back from that, which is he hopes for failure. He said it and I compliment him for his honesty. But that's their philosophy that is enunciated by Rush Limbaugh and I think that's the wrong philosophy for America.

Some believe the administration's addressing Limbaugh by name is a counter-productive strategy because it simply elevates him but elevating him's the whole point. This guy who may be a unifying and rallying force among the base is an alienating figure among the far larger and more important bloc of voters in the middle, many of whom still call themselves Republicans. Perhaps not for long.

Cantor has apparently come to realize this is a problem and has decided it's time to assert his own leadership role in the party. The question is, how long before he has to crawl back to Rush and apologize.

Update [2009-3-1 16:0:9 by Todd Beeton]:Ryeland has the beginnings of the rightwing backlash against Cantor.

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Cantor, Steele repudiate Rush; wingnuts freak out (Updated x2: RedState of Denial)

Republicans are hopelessly stuck with the same problem that has plagued them through two election cycles: a vast gulf between their base and majority of Americans. And, as we know, Obama and Democrats have successfully exploited this by focusing attention on Rush Limbaugh, driving the wedge between Republican officials and American voters even deeper.

So what happens when two high-profile Republicans try to distance themselves from Limbaugh -- the Republican base erupts and condemns their own leaders. Can't win for losing in the GOP these days.

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The Growing Conservative Divide

While conventional wisdom is that the GOP is quite pleased with itself for having stood united against the stimulus package and, remarkably, many in the media consider the GOP warriors winners in the debate, Jason Linkins has a great piece at HuffPo demonstrating a real divide between the triumphalism of conservatives in congress and the exasperation of conservatives looking on from the outside.

Linkins takes David Frum as an example, who railed against GOP  members' anti-San Francisco mouse strategy:

The problem with the story is not that it was false. The problem with the story is that it was stupid.

The US economy has plunged into severe recession (94% of Americans describe economic conditions as "bad," according to the Feb 2-4 CBS poll, and 51% say conditions are getting even worse).

President Obama and the Democrats have responded by steering the US radically to the left. [...]

We're facing more regulation of everything from high finance to the ordinary workplace. The Democrats are expanding Medicaid to crowd out private insurance. The federal government wants a huge new role in redirecting private investment in transportation and energy in the name of "green jobs."

And facing all this - we're talking about mice?

Could we possibly act more inadequate to the challenge? More futile? More brain dead?

Frum and I agree on little but I can get on board that last sentence. You see, we're coming together already.

Linkins next quotes Ross Douthat, conservative Atlantic blogger and self-styled Republican Party reformer, who agrees with Frum and bemoans the lack of leadership in the Republican Party:

Whereas today's Republican Party has no leaders at all, if you define leaders as politicians with the credibility and power to chart a new course for the party, as opposed to having it charted for them by the GOP's most vocal constituents and most ideological backbenchers. John McCain was mistrusted by the base, but he at least had run, and won, a national primary campaign, and thus could claim a mandate to lead the party with at least some degree of plausibility. Whereas the GOP's leaders in Washington, your Mitch McConnells and John Boehners, owe their power entirely to backroom politics: Nobody loves them, nobody trusts them, and as a result they're in no position to execute the kind of pivots that the party needs to make. One can reasonably expect them to do better than they've done to date when it comes to articulating an actual alternative to Obamanomics - i.e. more Larry Lindsey, less Jim DeMint - but one can't expect them to do much better. They simply don't have enough room to maneuver.

Douthat's hope:

...the more likely road to revival for the GOP probably starts outside Washington, with politicians who can afford to be experimental without constantly worrying about what Rush Limbaugh would say about them.

Unfortunately for Douthat's little theory, however, it's precisely the Republicans outside of Washington who are the ones supporting the stimulus package because, ya know, they're actually in the states...with the people...and the roads...and the jobs. And they tend to be more moderate, an increasingly rare breed within Washington, but a newly strong force within the party since they are legitimately a part of Obama's governing coalition. All of which point to more faults within the Republican Party, and certainly belie the delusionally triumphant ode to unity Eric Cantor sent out this weekend.

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The GOP House Whips: The New Stars Of The Republican Party

Bumped - Todd

Thanks to Political Machine for bringing this new hilarious video from the triumphalist GOP whips to my attention. To the tune of Aerosmith's "Back In The Saddle" (presumably with Joe Perry's blessing), Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy boast that '0' Republicans voted for the "Democrats' wasteful spending bill."

Watch the proud tribute to obstructionism below:

What's more interesting than the content (such as it is) of the video, though, is the branding of the whips -- Cantor and McCarthy -- as the new stars of the GOP. Boehner is nowhere to be found. And predictably, the whips' online presence completely rips off Obama. The familiar justified white text on light blue background that opens the video is only the beginning, go check out RepublicanWhip.House.Gov to see the extent to which, even aesthetically, the GOP has no new ideas.

I do have to give them credit for the branding of the whips as the new power brokers in the GOP House caucus, though. It is the whips whose job it is to keep their caucus in line (mission accomplished) and they are tapping into what I think is a very real desire among the GOP base for a unified front of opposition while at the same time filling a vacuum of leadership in the party. And the word "whip" is such a great word, evocative both as a verb and a noun, although they'd be well-advised to rename the site's "Whipping Post" section to avoid reminders of a horrible time in our history. All in all, though, the website is actually a pretty impressive online tool and I encourage everyone to take the whips up on their offer to "join the conversation" on Twitter:

We believe that this website should be an open forum for you to discuss your ideas and concerns for the future of our country. In that spirit, we'd like to invite you to join this conversation - use the hashtag #cantor in your tweet (your Twitter message) and your message will display on this page.

Now that Cantor and McCarthy are the new stars of the congressional GOP, one can expect that their very mandate is to oppose the president and the congressional Democrats for opposition's sake. Yet another clear indication that there is no compromising with these people, nor should we try.

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