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Shields and Gerson on the Week in Politics

By The NewsHour, The NewsHour - September 24, 2010

JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Gerson. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson. David Brooks is off tonight.

It's good to see you both. Thank you for being here.

MARK SHIELDS: Good to be with you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let's talk about the Bush-era tax cuts. We just heard Alan Greenspan with the argument about why they should be allowed to lapse.

But let's first talk about what is going on in the Congress. Democrats, Mark, in the Senate, they're saying, let's postpone a vote. But, in the House, we don't know what's going to happen. What's the backstory here?

MARK SHIELDS: The story of the House is that the House could pass the tax cut extension for those under $250,000. But you have to understand, Judy, that Democrats who are in tough races across the country, many of whom are defending seats that were traditionally Republicans' that they won in either 2006 or 2008 are very much on the defensive.

They're on the defensive because of the economy, first of all, the reality of the economy. But they're on the defensive explaining all sorts of votes they have cast. They want to get back and just go compete against their opponent. They don't want to nationalize this race anymore. They want to localize it.

And the House Democrats have cast all the tough votes this session. And they -- the Senate Democrats and the Senate in general has been the logjam. And they're simply saying, the Senate had to go first. And Harry Reid, they didn't have 60 votes in the Senate to pass -- to bring it up.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, the prospects are what?

MICHAEL GERSON: Slim to none in the session that's coming up after the November elections, in my view.

I mean, you could have Harry Reid lose his seat. In that circumstance, his promises and plans wouldn't mean very much. You could have some new members of the Senate that take place immediately -- the turnover taking place immediately, not in the -- you know, not down the road.

But because of state constitutions and the way they deal with this, you could have a changed Senate right away, with places like Colorado and other places. And you would have -- if the Republicans win big -- and that's a big if, OK -- it will be seen, broadly seen by -- in the country as a repudiation of Obama's economic approach.

And there's no way that congressional leaders can act as though that hadn't happened. It's not going to be possible.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, the Democratic hope of extending the middle-class tax cuts...... only?

MARK SHIELDS: I disagree with Michael in this sense. There is a longstanding tradition of lame-duck Congresses doing significant things. Some may recall, in 1998, after they lost seats in the midterm election, the Republican Congress impeached the president of the United States. A lame-duck Republican Congress did that, when, in fact, if they had seated the vote when the new members who won -- they wouldn't have passed at least one of the three articles of impeachment.

Here's the way it would work. The Democrats, in my judgment, in the House -- and that's what the House leadership believes -- could pass it on what is called a suspension calendar. The House, the majority in the House, the majority in the House runs the House, OK? The minority's responsibility in the House is to help make a quorum. And that's really it.

And the suspension calendar means there will be no amendments up or down. A two-thirds vote is required, and that would then pass it for the $250,000 under.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you are saying it is possible?

MARK SHIELDS: Sure, I do. And I think then it goes to the Senate, and what happens in the Senate is, there will be an attempt to try and isolate the $250,000 and above, the millionaires' tax cut, to extend that for a shorter period of time, maybe a year, and separate that from the $250,000 and below.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Michael, I have a question about the substance. I mean, the Alan Greenspan argument, that the -- we are -- that the country is facing a catastrophic situation, why isn't that argument catching on among his fellow Republicans?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I think it is important to note that it didn't really catch on among some Democrats, which is the reason the Democrats are in this circumstance.

A significant of those in the House and significant, key members of the Senate decided, you know, if you are a Keynesian, you don't raise taxes during an economic slowdown. That's -- that doesn't make any sense, even according to Keynesian economics.

And it's not only politically unpopular. I think there are some good economic arguments here. It's like, well, if you want to raise taxes, why do it now, you know, at a time where we are facing this slow recovery that feels like a continued recession? I think that's the argument.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I ask because he gave Jeff such a grim forecast.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean, Judy, the average tax cut for a person making $1 million is $100,000 a year. So, what you are really suggesting is, we are going to borrow money from the Chinese to provide a tax cut for these folks.

And, by every measurement, economic standard I have seen, this is the least stimulative to the economy, the tax cut for these folks at this level. And that is the argument that's made.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right. Let's talk about something that incorporates the tax cuts. Michael, that is the Republicans' Pledge to America. They rolled it out yesterday. They went to a hardware store out in Sterling, Virginia, what do you make of it?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I think it is less interesting as a governing agenda than it is as kind of a Rorschach test.

Mainstream, moderate Republicans and conservatives seem to welcome it, were enthusiastic about it, precisely because it's not particularly bold, not particularly dangerous or controversial. It really overturns the Obama agenda.

But Tea Party -- the hard core of the Tea Party was very critical of the pledge, for the same reasons, because it wasn't bold enough. They don't want to just overturn the Obama agenda. They want to overturn broad layers of the U.S. government.

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