If you really thought we were going to avoid going over the fiscal cliff, if you seriously believed Republicans in Congress would come to their senses and agree on a reasonable compromise, then consider what happened in the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, Dec. 4.
Even though I'm a proud Democrat, I have many Republican friends. And, over the years, one of the Republicans I've admired most and grown close to is Bob Dole. He's an American war hero. He was a great senator from Kansas. He was a very fair and effective Senate majority leader. He's a wonderful, warm and funny human being. And, having triumphed over his own war wounds so remarkably, he's a strong champion of rights for the disabled and a major sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
It was in that capacity that Dole dramatically returned to the Senate on Tuesday. Six days out of Walter Reed Hospital, he was brought to the Senate in his wheelchair to beseech his former colleagues to support the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) treaty. That pact, already ratified by 126 countries, would create no new American laws nor change existing law. It merely calls on all nations to extend to their disabled citizens the same rights disabled persons enjoy in the United States.
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One by one, Senate Republicans reverently approached their former leader to shake his hand. And then, as soon as he left the room, they stabbed him in the back. Only eight Republicans joined all Democrats in voting to ratify the treaty. It went down to defeat, 61-38, five votes shy of a two-thirds majority.
Could the message be any clearer? If Republicans don't care enough about the disabled to vote for a non-binding treaty that would encourage other nations to be more like America, they sure as heck don't care enough about the middle class to vote to prevent their taxes from going up on Jan. 1.
Put on your parachute, friends. At this point, there's no doubt about it. We're heading over the fiscal cliff. And President Obama should take us over the cliff, if not doing so means caving in and extending tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires.
Despite all the hand-wringing and grandstanding on the part of congressional Republicans, this is not complicated. The path to a deal is short and direct. We know that the Bush tax cuts expire on Jan. 1. A bill giving every American taxpayer a break by extending the Bush tax cuts on the first $250,000 of earned income – more than 98 percent of Americans would ever need – has passed the Senate on a bipartisan vote. President Obama has said he'll sign it immediately. The only thing standing in the way of that tax break for 100 percent of Americans is a vote in the House, which Speaker John Boehner refuses to allow, unless tax cuts also continue on all income for the wealthiest of Americans, those making more than $250,000. He's holding tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans hostage, in other words, unless the top 2 percent get their tax cut, too. Otherwise, everybody's taxes go up: which, according to the Tax Policy Center, would mean an extra $2,000 in taxes for the average middle-class family.
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By stubbornly fighting for millionaires over the middle class, Boehner either forgot or doesn't care that we just had an election in which the No. 1 issue was tax cuts for the wealthy. At every stop, President Obama offered voters a clear choice: If you think taxes should go up on the top 2 percent, vote for me. If not, vote for Romney. The voters have spoken. Clearly and decisively. Elections have consequences. Americans overwhelmingly support letting the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy expire.
Two years ago, facing a similar fiscal crisis, President Obama caved in and agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts for two more years. But times have changed. Things have gotten worse, not better. If we're ever going to get America's fiscal house in order, we simply can no longer afford a handout to the wealthiest of Americans.
In the next few days, it looks like the president will be forced to choose between higher taxes for all Americans or continued tax breaks for the top 2 percent. He has only one choice. No deal is better than a bad deal. Let Republicans take us over the cliff. The American people will know which party to blame.