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In his interview with NPR's Steve Inskeep broadcast on Morning Edition Friday morning, President Obama remains relentlessly upbeat about gaining congressional approval for the package of trade-offs on taxes he has agreed to with Senate Republicans.
That may be the essence of his problem with House Democrats: He has agreed with Senate Republicans, and they can't stand it.
The president is way too cool with a deal that cuts House Democrats out of the power equation. That alone is unacceptable, if you are a House Democrat and you have suffered enough before the winds of change and the countermanding winds that follow.
Ever go out as the "third wheel" with a couple romantically involved with each other? If so, you know how the House Democrats feel about the recently concluded White House negotiations with Senate Republicans.
Senate Republicans are, of course, not just another team in the power leagues of Washington. The minority party in the Senate is always a special power player, a pivot point for the rest of the government and the national agenda. All it has to do is maintain enough unity to sustain a threat to filibuster. This Republican majority has set records both for unity and for threatening filibusters in the 111th Congress. Few minorities of such few seats have been even nearly as determinative.
Had it been otherwise, the Congress now ending would have passed a public option in the health care bill, tougher regulations on banks, a tougher set of standards on carbon emissions and a totally different tax package to substitute for the expiring tax cuts from the era of George W. Bush. It would have long ago repealed the "don't ask, don't tell" policy for gays in the military and approved the DREAM Act embracing the potential of children brought to the U.S. by illegally immigrating parents.
Filibusters are no longer all-night sieges of floor debate, as in past eras. They are now no more than a series of procedural threats made in the cloaked silence of private chambers.
That's why, confronted with the Jan. 1 expiration of current tax rates, the White House assumed it had to negotiate with Senate Republicans -- first, foremost and pretty much exclusively. Whatever Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell could be made to accept would simply have to fly with House Republicans [by and large]. And House and Senate Democrats, for their part, would have little choice but to line up with the president. Their alternative would be to bring on tax increases for everyone on Jan. 1.
And, of course, no one in their right mind would do that. Or would they?
This week, House Democrats announced that they would. You can call that a bluff or a death wish, but it may also be the Democrats' bid to recapture some of their birthright. Faced with just a few weeks until Republicans reclaim control of the chamber in the new Congress in January, it is these Democrats' last shot at a last hurrah.
You have to feel their pain. It's bad enough they lost 63 seats in November and invited ridicule by re-electing the same leadership team. It's bad enough that they paid this price largely for voting with Obama on countless bills and other issues. It's bad enough that they did this again and again, only to watch the self-absorbed Senate invoke its arcane rules and walk away -- often without even voting.
Consider the added insult, then, of watching Obama negotiate from weakness and reach an unsatisfying compromise with the GOP this week with nary a backward glance at the House members who gave their political lives for him.
Did it help when the president announced his deal with the GOP just as House Democrats were arriving at the White House for their annual holiday party? What do you think?