McConnell's Reality Distortion Field on Tax Cuts

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
Win McNamee
"It's pretty clear taxes not going up on anyone in the middle of this recession," Sen. Mitch McConnell said on "Meet the Press." "There's bipartisan opposition to raising taxes on anyone at this time."

On Saturday, Senate Republicans voted down Democratic efforts to limit extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for all but the wealthiest Americans. Five Democratic Senators joined Republicans on one or both of the votes.

The Republican Senate minority leader has been arguing that the outcome of the midterm elections confers a mandate on Congress to extend the Bush-era tax cuts, which are set to expire Jan. 1.

But the bipartisan opposition and an electoral mandate to extend the Bush-era tax cut or block all other legislation is at odds with recent polling of the American public -- those whom McConnell and Congress are supposed to represent.

A recent CBS News poll indicated that 53 percent of Americans want the Bush-era tax cuts extended only for households earning less than $250,000 per year.

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Only 26 percent indicated they support extending the tax cuts for all Americans regardless of income level. Among Republicans polled, 41 percent support the White House proposal to extend tax cuts for households earning less than $250,000 and 46 percent support extending all the Bush-era tax cuts.

A recent Gallup poll found 44 percent of Americans want to keep the tax cuts but set limits for wealthy Americans, and 40 percent favor maintaining the Bush-era tax cuts for all Americans. A majority in the Gallup poll (57 percent) would set the bar on taxing households at $500,000 rather than $250,000, which is the figure the White House prefers.

A majority of Americans believe the tax cuts should be temporary -- 45 percent, versus 37 percent who believe the tax cuts should be permanent.  

In the AP-CNBC poll, 50 percent of Americans were in favor of expiring the Bush-era tax cuts for households earning over $250,000 and 34 percent favor extending the tax cuts for all Americans.

Apparently ignoring the signals presented in the polls (which politicians sometimes do), McConnell and 41 other Republican Senators said they would block votes on all legislation, including the nuclear arms reduction START agreement with Russia and an extension of unemployment benefits, unless an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts includes the highest income earners.

"Life is a series of choices," McConnell said in reference to linking a vote on the START treaty to extending all the Bush-era tax cuts.

His strategy of holding up legislation, and giving the White House a something-or-nothing "series of choices," may be working. The White House has said that it is "negotiating" a compromise tax deal in the next few days, which will extend all the Bush-era tax cuts, but not indefinitely.

Following the midterm election, McConnell and the GOP have been able to create a reality distortion field surrounding the tax cuts, and the White House and majority of Democrats are about to enter it.


Daniel Farber is editor-in-chief of CBSNews.com. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here. You can also follow him on Twitter.

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    Dan has more than 20 years of journalism experience. He has served as editor in chief of CBSNews.com, CNET News, ZDNet, PC Week, and MacWeek.

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