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Minnesota lawmakers respond with little enthusiasm to tax deal

WASHINGTON — Four Minnesota House Democrats voted to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for just those making $250,000 or less a year last week, a vote that found a majority in the House. Both Minnesota senators did the same over the weekend, but — stop me if you’ve heard this before — that vote couldn’t muster the 60 votes needed to choke off a filibuster.

Stuck between 50 votes to pass and 60 to end a filibuster, President Obama brokered a compromise with GOP leaders that extends the expiring tax cuts for two years without exception, along with some additional tax cuts, in exchange for an extension of unemployment benefits.

MinnPost sent inquiries to every member of the Minnesota congressional delegation, and here’s what we got: A big fat zero members enthusiastically embracing the deal. Most, including Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, said they were still studying the proposal.

Others, including Reps. Betty McCollum, Keith Ellison and Michele Bachmann, voiced emphatic concerns with a framework that includes at least one provision each finds noxious.

“This is a deal that will continue to explode the deficit while the rich get richer and struggling middle class families get crumbs,” McCollum said in a blistering statement. “The Republicans successfully held unemployed Americans hostage to give even more tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires. This plan is irresponsible, and I will oppose it.”

Bachmann released this statement about the proposal this morning:

“Certainty must be provided to individuals, businesses large and small, farmers, and everyone impacted by the tax code. I called for the current tax rates to be made permanent for all Americans, but it appears a compromise for a two-year extension will be the temporary solution.

“It was irresponsible for Congress to adjourn in September and hit the campaign trail without finalizing the tax rates. The American people are tired of uncertainty, and this compromise on a two-year extension for all will at least offer a foundation for job creation for the immediate future.

“As part of the compromise, the President wants to extend unemployment benefits for another 13 months. Unemployment benefits are already at a historical length of 99 weeks, and the President’s request would push benefits to three years. The President hasn’t indicated any other spending offsets or reductions to pay for these benefits, even though he claims to be committed to reducing the deficit. Our economy doesn’t have a moment to waste and it’s vital that we stop these tax increases now, but we cannot overlook the consequences of another unfunded extension of unemployment benefits. Along with the American people, I anxiously await the final version of the bill that will bring certainly to our nation’s taxpayers.”

‘Chilling prospect’
Obama said Monday the compromise was forced by the impending tax bill increases scheduled on Jan. 1 — calling it a “chilling prospect” for the American people.

“I am not willing to let that happen,” Obama said. “I know there’s some people in my own party and in the other party who would rather prolong this battle, even if we can’t reach a compromise.  But I’m not willing to let working families across this country become collateral damage for political warfare here in Washington.  And I’m not willing to let our economy slip backwards just as we’re pulling ourselves out of this devastating recession.”

Make no mistake: this wasn’t a 50-50 compromise. If adopted, Democrats would swallow a vote for tax cuts for the rich — an idea every recent Democratic presidential candidate (Obama included) and most in the party campaigned against. Yes, it’s only for two years, but Dems also failed to decouple tax cuts for $250,000+ earners (or even $1 million+ earners) from the rest of them, thus failing to set up a show-me vote further down the road.

Instead, the debate in two years will be about extending existing tax cuts “for every American,” a rhetorical debate Republicans are using this year, used in 2001 to pass the cuts in the first place and will undoubtedly use as the 2012 campaign season comes to a close.

In exchange, GOP leaders agreed to extend unemployment benefits for another 13 months. Is it a big ask? Maybe for some, like Bachmann, but it’s a popular policy nationally. An unemployment benefits extension had 60 percent support nationally in a mid-November poll.

Senate Democrats will meet later today to discuss the deal framework, which so far has received a cool reaction within the caucus.

“Now that the President has outlined his proposal, Senator Reid plans on discussing it with his caucus,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s spokesman, Jim Manley, said in a brief statement to reporters late Monday that conspicuously omitted saying anything nice about the deal.

Republican leader Mitch McConnell, in contrast, had a far more positive take, calling it a “framework of a bipartisan agreement to prevent tax hikes.”

More on this is inevitably coming — remember this is just the “framework” of a deal, and actual legislation has to clear the House and Senate by Dec. 17, when the House and Senate are set to adjourn for the year.

Here are the latest statements from other members of the Minnesota delegation:

5th District Rep. Keith Ellison (with  Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva)
We call on our Congressional leaders in the House and Senate to hold firm on passing a middle class tax cut with no strings attached. We also call on Congressional Republicans to stop using unemployed Americans as bargaining chips in exchange for another tax break for the wealthy.
Tax breaks for billionaires don’t create jobs. The George W. Bush Presidency and the Republican recession are proof of that. Giving rich people more money just for being rich does nothing to help the economy, in fact, serves only to exacerbate our problems.  No amount of Republican rhetoric can change that fact.
We simply cannot afford to borrow another $700 billion to give tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires who aren’t paying their fair share, especially when there are millions of Americans still looking for work.  Just 1 percent of that $700 billion would pay for almost 142,000 elementary school teachers for an entire year. That money should be used to create jobs, rebuild our infrastructure and educate our children, not for the wealthy to buy more yachts.
We agree with the President that there is no time to delay — the recovery is fragile, and American families are hurting.  We need to make the right decisions right now, to boost our economy.  The unemployment crisis is a harsh reality for millions of Americans and giving more money to the super rich won’t do anything to solve it.
This holiday season should be about supporting middle class Americans, not another taxpayer funded present for the wealthy.  

3rd District Rep. Erik Paulsen
I’m encouraged by the fact that the president came over to an extension of all the tax cuts. I really do need to see the details but I like what I see.

8th District Rep. Jim Oberstar
There are a lot of questions I will need to have addressed before I can decide if I will support a tax cut for millionaires that will cost more than the stimulus package which Republicans opposed so bitterly.
Republicans held two million unemployed Americans hostage so they could carve out tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. I can’t justify continuing a tax break worth $100,000 a year for someone with an income of over a million dollars,  while you are cutting off a $350 dollar a week unemployment benefit that is helping a hard working family.

2nd District Rep. John Kline
The deal is far from perfect, but Congressman Kline is pleased the President heeded the call of Republicans to ensure no one faces a tax increase next year. The Congressman remains committed to providing certainty for the private sector so Minnesota families can plan and businesses small and large can start putting Americans back to work.

1st District Rep. Tim Walz
I am disappointed. However, I do not believe that compromise, by virtue, is a bad thing and so I am willing to consider this proposal. That being said, I have not made a decision and I would need to read the final legislation before doing so. I firmly believe tax cuts for middle class American taxpayers will help fuel our economy and unemployment benefits stimulate our economy as families spend those dollars at the local grocery store or putting gas in their car. I also still firmly believe that tax cuts for millionaires add to the federal debt without any economic benefit. In the coming days, I will consult with southern Minnesotans as I do with any proposal in front of me.

Comments (27)

  1. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 12/07/2010 - 11:20 am.

    Bachmann: “Unemployment benefits are already at a historical length of 99 weeks, and the President’s request would push benefits to three years.”

    No, if she could be bothered to read the legislation, she might note that the 99 week program has had funding continued for another year. 150 week funding was never in the bill.

  2. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/07/2010 - 11:51 am.


    The way things are going for them these days, the only way covetous leftists are ever going to get their “pound of flesh” from their more successful neighbors is to go out and punch one in the face.

  3. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 12/07/2010 - 12:45 pm.

    This is a depressing reminder that for all the talk of a new era of austerity in America, politicians still find it easier to give money away than to take it back.

    Both the tax cut extension and the unemployment extension are disappointing. First of all, it’s disappointing that these two issues were connected in shameless political horsetrading. Secondly, the whole “debate” of the tax cut extensions was essentially on an all-or-nothing basis, and they were everywhere called “Bush tax cuts” or “Tax cuts for the wealthy”, which are unhelpful appellations. A more responsible congress would have considered unemployment separately from tax rates, and would have actually debated a new set of tax rates independent of what they are under the “Bush cuts” or what they were prior to those cuts. There’s absolutely no reason that the various marginal tax rates have to somehow match what they all were at some given time in the past. We accept that we have a graduated income tax, as provided by constitutional amendment. The legitimate debate, from time to time, is what level of income should pay at what marginal rate. Instead of a rational consideration of this, we got partisan sound-bite politics.

    On the unemployment extension, the Republicans had a good position in insisting that it be paid for by cuts elsewhere. The amount of money involved is not so great that modest cuts in a few areas couldn’t cover it. But again it turned into partisan grandstanding. What’s more worrying in the long run is that by the time this extension expires, a whole lot of people will have been drawing unemployment for three years, which is completely unprecedented. After three years on unemployment a lot of those people will have forgotten how to work. Furthermore, we’re well into establishing a tradition of providing permanent unemployment benefits, which means we’re well on our way to creating a large class of the permanently unemployed. Perhaps some Democratic strategists are cultivating this class as a reliable voting block, but it won’t do our country any good.

    The bottom line is that in both cases, congress took the easy way out, doing what looks popular today and leaving others to figure out how to pay for it tomorrow. That’s the approach that got us into this economic mess, and it looks like congress is happy to continue it forever regardless of election results.

  4. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 12/07/2010 - 01:34 pm.

    Betty McCollum is exactly right. Other Dems should join with her and other opponents in the House and Senate to make sure the right wing does not succeed in extending the tax cuts for the wealthy — thereby adding hundreds upon hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit the Republicans say they are so worried about.

    Even if it means that all Americans will lose the Bush tax cuts when they expire in a few weeks, in the long run all Americans will be better off than they will if the Dems “compromise” yet again.

    Obama doesn’t seem to listen to anyone but those with whom he feels his party should compromise (roll over). He should listen also to Russ Feingold and Bernie Sanders and Dennis Kucinich and McCollum and Ellison, et cetera, before he finds himself sorry to have given up their counsel in return for a forever-sick economy.

  5. Submitted by Hénock Gugsa on 12/07/2010 - 02:06 pm.

    The big IRONY here is that …

    No matter how Obama fattens them, the ungrateful and greedy Republicans will continue calling him a “socialist.”

  6. Submitted by Hénock Gugsa on 12/07/2010 - 02:15 pm.

    @#2 – Mr. Swift:

    Please don’t say or think those thoughts, lest they come true and cause you much more serious chagrin.

    Happy and contented people like you should continue thinking happy thoughts.

  7. Submitted by Nate Pete on 12/07/2010 - 02:36 pm.


    Now that I am done yelling. Congress has NEVER FAILED to keep the 99 week extension going when the unemployment rate was above 7 percent.

    But I guess you’d rather take what Bachmann says and use it as “fact” or something. Nice piece though, it highlights how the majority is still being held hostage.

  8. Submitted by Karl Bremer on 12/07/2010 - 03:11 pm.

    “Four Minnesota House Democrats voted to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for just those making $250,000 or less a year last week, a vote that found a majority in the House.”

    This is sloppy and inaccurate reporting. The Bush-era tax cuts that were voted on apply to ALL taxpayers no matter what they earn–NOT just those making $250,000 a year. Try reporting it this way if you want to distinguish yourself from the other 99% of the rubes who can’t report this story properly:

    Four Minnesota House Democrats voted to extend the Bush-era tax cuts on only the first $250,000 earned by all taxpayers last week, a vote that found a majority in the House.

  9. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 12/07/2010 - 03:32 pm.

    …”covetous lefties”…

    Hmmm, was it the lefties that said that they would not continue extended benefits unless the wealthiest got more money?

    I think #2 needs a new dictionary.

  10. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/07/2010 - 03:38 pm.

    JJ, to generally happy guys, such as myself, the thought of frustrated lefty’s running around with their empty loot bags on their heads, swinging wildly at their successful neighbors is an image of much hilarity.

    Again, I find myself agreeing with Richard. The GOP is standing on the right side of the tax issue, but have earned themselves a FAIL by allowing the Democrats to foist yet another bailout financed on credit.

    I thought we were not going to allow the Democrat party to run up the tab any longer.

    I urge conservative legislators to use the common sense that earned them their seats; allow the Democrats to sow their taxes that they might reap the bitter wind in 2012.

  11. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/07/2010 - 03:47 pm.

    “Hmmm, was it the lefties that said that they would not continue extended benefits unless the wealthiest got more money?”

    “…unless the wealthiest got more money”? No, only lefitsts are scrabbling for “more money”.

    Everyone is demanding “less”; less taxation; less waste; less spending; less borrowing.

    I think #9 needs a new, less grasping worldview.

  12. Submitted by Hénock Gugsa on 12/07/2010 - 04:01 pm.

    @# 9 …”.”covetous lefties” …


    More of the insensitive, callous, and mindless remarks are popping up everywhere.

    Over at MinnClips section, the one about Sen. Franken’s speech in Congress elicited a gem of a comment from Eric Myers … about how “The GOP is teaching the man to fish (utilizing Fiscal Policy help spur job creation).”

    Is giving the un-needy permanent tax breaks an advanced course in fish-catching?!

  13. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 12/07/2010 - 04:23 pm.

    My problem with Keynesianism isn’t that it doesn’t work, it might. The problem is that all kinds of folly stops being called foolish and becomes stimulative instead. The extension of the marginal rate cut is just one good example.

  14. Submitted by Nate Pete on 12/07/2010 - 05:02 pm.

    That is funny. Richard you just posted (or copied) that same word salad from a poster at the economist. I’m not gonna post a link but its funny.

  15. Submitted by Hénock Gugsa on 12/07/2010 - 05:08 pm.

    @#10 Mr. Swift, ” …frustrated lefty’s running around with their empty loot bags on their heads, …”

    An overwhelmingly generous comment there.

    But I think that their bags are empty because the greedies on the right done emptied everything out. Nothing under the tree, bah humbug! What!

  16. Submitted by Jeff Klein on 12/07/2010 - 05:27 pm.

    See, to me this actually seems rather strategically easy for Democrats. All they have to do is have a spine (ok, that’s hard for them I guess). Say they won’t pass anything, let them expire. The Republicans will almost certainly fold. And even if they don’t, all the Democrats then need to do is make good on their bluff (this buying them credibility for the future), and next year introduce a new bill with tax cuts for the middle class – the “Obama-Pelosi-Reid tax cuts” – and dare the Republicans to vote against it.

    Personal politics aside, isn’t this a legit plan as a matter of strategy?

  17. Submitted by Bill Coleman on 12/07/2010 - 05:28 pm.

    # 2 calls to mind Marie Antoinette’s fears. The soon to come billion dollar bonuses for Wall Street “job creators” may be their “let them eat cake” moment.

    The Democrats should figure out the deficit impact of not assessing an additional 3% on the amount of those bonuses over $250k. Add some nice pictures of the real estate owned by these folks, the amount that they received from the federal bailout, and their picture of Mitch McConnell shaking their hand with a big smile. Don’t forget to add the amount that they gave to Mitch and his buddies for the election!

    Where was that ad before this election? Brings to mind the old SNL skit with Bush and Dukakis “and I’m losing to this guy?”

  18. Submitted by David Willard on 12/07/2010 - 05:51 pm.

    I’m kinda dense, but the government doesn’t pay me…does it pay the “rich?” So this pile of money is the government’s money to be handed out by those politicians who are in power to those they deem worthy? And if a “tax cut” is good for the middle income earners and the economy why is it not good for the “rich?” My knee-jerk answer would be typical class warfare by the left. But I’m no Einstein.

  19. Submitted by Alan Laursen on 12/07/2010 - 06:59 pm.

    I would like for the “agreed upon” extensions of the tax cuts to run for 18 months instead of 24. Then Congress will need to vote on them before the next election and we can clearly make this a very timely election issue based on actual voting records. Otherwise, it will get pushed, again, to the lame duck session.

    Speaking of “lame duck” [and at the risk of arguing against my previous point], I take issue with the overemphasis on this concept. Many folks seem to be implying that it important matters essentially should not be relegated to the post-election session. Last I checked, when Congress is elected in November, their term is clearly designed to run through the following post-election session. Hence, are they not still “beholden” to the “mandate” of the previous election? Otherwise, we are essentially only electing the Reps to 21 month terms.

  20. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 12/07/2010 - 07:51 pm.

    Hmmm. Maybe this is a good compromise after all – most commentators seem to hate it.

    Personally, “compromise” with the guy who has kidnapped your family doesn’t have the ring of anything honorable.

    No statement of concern about the deficit has any credibility coming from someone supporting continued tax breaks for the wealthy. It doesn’t make any difference if those people create jobs or not (and there’s no evidence that they do, at least not with additional income from personal tax breaks). A combination of spending cuts and tax increases is what’s required to deal with the national deficit. This package doesn’t do anything to address that deficit, and when the radical right’s partners in sanctimony are in the majority in the next Congress, my guess is that they’ll address only the spending side of the equation, while continuing to pander to the wealthy, whose tax breaks will cost my granddaughter far more than another 13 months of unemployment.

    I’m sympathetic to Obama’s lament that Republicans are holding the American middle class hostage, but not so sympathetic that I agree with his decision. It’s the equivalent of negotiating with bank robbers by saying, “Look… put down the gun and you can keep the money.”

    I might quarrel over the details, but I also have to agree with Richard Schulze that 3 years of unemployment benefits is unprecedented. I doubt that people will literally “forget how to work,” but it does seem possible that for some, at least, a culture of dependency might well be the result, which is what has happened in the past with welfare. That possibility strikes me as one more in a long line of reasons why a reinvention of at least a few New Deal-style programs to address pressing needs in everything from national parks to highway maintenance to energy development ought to be something gaining traction among the policy cognescenti. Put people to work, locally whenever possible, fix things that need fixing, pay them for doing something rather than simply sending them a check, and write the legislation so that programs expire as the economy improves and they get better jobs.

    I also agree with Richard that the whole discussion of taxes has been hijacked by propaganda on both sides. The legitimate debate, as he said, is – or should be – over what level of income should pay at what rate. Lower my rate, and I’ll give up my home mortgage deduction. Tax capital gains at the same rate as “regular” income. Etc. Instead of posturing from both sides, figure out – this is what the Congressional Budget Office is FOR – what combination of spending cuts and tax increases is required to get us back on firm financial ground, then write legislation that will accomplish the task. Spread the pain and the benefits equitably.

    My heart is with Keith Ellison and Betty McCollum, and I could certainly live with letting ALL the “Bush Era” tax cuts expire. Current Republican fiscal policy is both inept and foolish – and potentially disastrous in the long run. But I’m also not a fan of governmental paralysis – there’s been far too much of that in recent years, and I think we’re about to suffer through another round of it again in Minnesota once Dayton is sworn in and the elephants are let loose in the legislature. At the national level, I believe J.J. Sefton is correct in #5 – it doesn’t matter what Obama does, the right wing will continue to call him names and obstruct his proposals just because they can.

    So, before I get too discouraged, all I need to do is think about the alternatives. Look at the potential field of Republican presidential challengers for 2012. When I do that, all those apocalyptic tales of American decline (i.e., like Rome’s decline) come to life. Dems may come up with someone better than Obama for 2012, but if they don’t, and the choice is between Obama, who “compromises” far more than I’d like, and some Tea Party-approved Know-Nothing, I already know who I’ll be voting for.

  21. Submitted by Henk Tobias on 12/07/2010 - 08:16 pm.

    You’re right David, you are no Einstein and there is class warfare going on, but as with most things right wingers understand, it is exactly the opposite of what you think it is. Class Warfare is the Rich against the rest of us and for the last 10 years the rich have been winning, big time. Income disparity is a difficult concept for non-Einsteins to understand, but basically it is the gap between what those at the top own in comparison to those at the bottom. Right now that gap is larger than it was just before the great depression. The rich are winning.

  22. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 12/07/2010 - 09:11 pm.

    “I’m kinda dense, but the government doesn’t pay me…does it pay the “rich?”

    Do you own a bank? An FCC license? A corporation with the power of eminent domain? Have you ever owned or run a multibillion dollar company that was bailed out by the government? These are just a few of the means by which the government “pays” the rich, or really, lets the rich print the money themselves. How do you think they can afford to buy the politicians, judges and votes to keep the gravy train rolling? They don’t “earn” it.

  23. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 12/07/2010 - 09:51 pm.

    You people are missing the biggest point here.

    Obama has now agreed that leaving the tax rates in place for everyone and not increasing taxes on the rich will be good for the economy – in other words, the republican economic policy.

    Now when the economy improves over the next 2 years, republicans can (and will) say that it was their policy of tax cuts that cured the economy, not the democrat plan of huge government spending.

    If Obama wants to claim credit for the improved economy when he runs in 2012, he’ll have to admit that he went along with the republican policy of lower taxes that did it, and with it goes the admission that Keynesian economics is a fraud and a failure.


  24. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 12/07/2010 - 09:52 pm.

    #16 I suppose all the tax rates can be allowed to expire, everyone gets a tax increase, and the majority party and President get the blame. I’m not sure that the strategy is sound at this point.

    Next year, any Democrat bill from the House never sees the light of day so there wiould be no showdown vote for the Republicans to take. The Republican bill however, lowering the tax rates for all Americans, will be passed and sent to the Democratic Senate for a showdown vote. Should such a bill get through the Senate because of a few wayward Democrats, it then heads to the President’s desk. Care to wager on the strategy the President uses?

  25. Submitted by donald maxwell on 12/07/2010 - 09:55 pm.

    Not surprising to see Paulsen loving those tax breaks for the wealthy.

  26. Submitted by Jeff Klein on 12/07/2010 - 10:07 pm.

    #18: You can call every request for more progressive taxation “class warfare” if you want, but the fact of the matter is that income inequality has been growing severely in this country for 30 years. Unless there’s some evidence that this is going to turn around on its own, I for one have little desire to live in a place where two percent of the population controls the majority of the wealth – such a place belongs in Medieval Europe, not a modern first world country. If fighting to rescind these tax cuts makes me a “class warrior”, fine, then it’s a war, bring it on.

  27. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 12/08/2010 - 03:15 pm.

    Mr. Tester — You seem to have “missed” the lessons learned during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

    Shrinking the economy by reducing governmental spending only deepens the recession/depression.

    Spending by creating government jobs (as Roosevelt did) removes workers from the ranks of the unemployed and from the welfare system, gets income and other taxes flowing to government again, and allows demand (and therefore production and therefore jobs) to increase so people have money in their pockets.

    Europe hasn’t remembered it either, apparently, as most of their countries are deliberate cutting governmental spending by throwing workers, the poor, the sick and students under the bus while preventing their economies from growing out of this mess.

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