Two significant moves have just been made (on Thursday) during the Lame Duck session of Congress.
First, the House passed the Child Nutrition Bill, which expands the school lunch program and will automatically include more children on Medicaid. The program currently feeds more than 31 million youngsters each day. The bill also raises the standard on what would be served, namely, requiring more fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products, and less processed foods, junk foods and sweets. Half the cost of the new legislation would come from a cut in Food Stamp benefits, a compromise that some Democrats had fought against until they realized that a delay in 2010 might mean that no bill would be passed at all. The Senate already passed a version of the bill. Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, who did not win her campaign for re-election, was the main writer of that bill. With the House passage, the compromise will soon be ready for the president to sign into law.
Second, the House voted to extend the Bush tax cuts for the middle class, that is, all individuals earning up to $200,000 and couples earning up to $250,000. Twenty Democrats opposed the bill; three Republicans supported it. The final count was 234 to 188.
According to congressional estimates, making tax cuts permanent for taxpayers under $250,000 would “add a little more than $3 trillion to the national debt over the next decade.” But making them permanent for earners over this income level “would require an additional $700 billion in federal borrowing.” Why, given the “talk” about cutting the national deficit, should the nation keep giving a cash break to those who need it least—the highest earners among us? Why not put that $700 billion in revenue toward paying down the deficit?
The House voted to do what President Obama has proposed for months—extend the middle-class tax cuts. It also clearly allowed the Bush-era tax cut for the wealthiest Americans to expire as written, at the end of 2010. In mid-term election polls, the American public overwhelmingly supported a proposed extension of the tax break for earners up to $250,000 and opposed tax breaks for the wealthy. Will Americans support it now that the House has passed it? It will be interesting to see if the public even registers the Congressional battle, with the Christmas rush and winter setting in. Few expect the Senate to follow suit. And the discussion on compromise is going on even as I write this.
Still, the House vote is principled and smart. Why? Because it puts elected representatives on record. Question is: Is the American public taking notice? What might help the public to watch?
I think the Senate should do something similar, let those Republicans who want to give away a tax break to the rich filibuster. In fact, the Senate ought to allow filibuster over other issues, as well. A real filibuster, not just the mere threat of one, might actually grab the attention of voters. That would be some sort of victory.
Attention must be paid.