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January 2, 2013

Why Tom Harkin and a Handful of Other Progressives Opposed the Deal

By John Nichols

The agreement compromised on what was supposed to be a hard-and-fast principle: that tax rates on Americans making $250,000 or more must go up to at least the rates that were in place when Bill Clinton was president. Instead, the deal only ends Bush-era tax cuts on those with incomes above $400,000.

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Cross-posted from The Nation

Most progressives in the US Senate and House voted in favor of the "fiscal cliff" deal worked out between Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky. They did this despite the fact that the agreement compromised on what was supposed to be a hard-and-fast principle: that tax rates on Americans making $250,000 or more must go up to at least the rates that were in place when Bill Clinton was president. Instead, the deal only ends Bush-era tax cuts on those with incomes above $400,000. That rate, thoughtful progressives argue, "does not generate the revenue necessary for the country to meet its needs for everything from education for our children, to job training, to other critical supports for the middle class."

True, there will be some restoration of tax fairness -- not to mention an extension of unemployment benefits and a delay in across-the-board cuts proposed as part of the so-called "sequester" scheme. That was enough for most congressional progressives, from Senators Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, to Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairs Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, and Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona, in the House. They voiced their concerns but ultimately voted "yes." 

Many, like Senator Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, did so with considerable concern. "Although it does not do as much as I want, this bill does ensure that the wealthy will be contributing more as we work to bring our deficits under control. I far prefer that choice to further cuts to education, law enforcement, and investments in the infrastructure our economy depends on," Merkley said of the measure. "But let's be clear: this deal carries great risks as well. This deal sets up more cliffs in the near future, including the expiring debt ceiling and the sequestration, pre-planned cuts to programs essential to working families. And as before, there will be some who use these cliffs to launch renewed attacks on Medicare and Social Security. We cannot let those attacks succeed."

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Submitters Bio:

John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Online Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.

Nichols writes about politics for The Nation magazine as its Washington correspondent. He is a contributing writer for The Progressive and In These Times and the associate editor of the Capital Times, the daily newspaper in Madison, Wisconsin. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and dozens of other newspapers.

Nichols is a frequent guest on radio and television programs as a commentator on politics and media issues. He was featured in Robert Greenwald's documentary, "Outfoxed," and in the documentaries Joan Sekler's "Unprecedented," Matt Kohn's "Call It Democracy" and Robert Pappas's "Orwell Rolls in his Grave." The keynote speaker at the 2004 Congress of the International Federation of Journalists in Athens, Nichols has been a featured presenter at conventions, conferences and public forums on media issues sponsored by the Federal Communications Commission, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Consumers International, the Future of Music Coalition, the AFL-CIO, the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, the Newspaper Guild [CWA] and dozens of other organizations.

Nichols is the author of the upcoming book The Genius of Impeachment (The New Press), as well as a critically-acclaimed analysis of the Florida recount fight of 2000, Jews for Buchanan (The New Press) and a best-selling biography of Vice President Dick Cheney, Dick: The Man Who is President (The New Press), which has recently been published in French and Arabic. He edited Against the Beast: A Documentary History of American Opposition to Empire (Nation Books), of which historian Howard Zinn said: "At exactly the time when we need it most, John Nichols gives us a special gift--a collection of writings, speeches, poems, and songs from throughout American history--that reminds us that our revulsion to war and empire has a long and noble tradition in this country."

With Robert W. McChesney, Nichols has co-authored the books, It's the Media, Stupid! (Seven Stories), Our Media, Not Theirs (Seven Stories) and Tragedy and Farce: How the American Media Sell Wars, Spin Elections, and Destroy Democracy (The New Press). McChesney and Nichols are the co-founders of Free Press, the nation's media-reform network, which organized the 2003 and 2005 National Conferences on Media Reform.

Of Nichols, author Gore Vidal says: "Of all the giant slayers now afoot in the great American desert, John Nichols's sword is the sharpest."

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