Tax-Cut Deal Opponent Weighs In On Compromise

For reaction to the proposed deal to extend the Bush-era tax cut deal, we turn to Rep. Jim McDermott, a Democrat from Washington state. McDermott has spoken out about the tax cut extension. He speaks with host Melissa Block.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Now, to another of those Democrats angered by the tax cut deal. Congressman Jim McDermott of Washington, welcome to the program.

Representative JIM McDERMOTT (Democrat, Washington): Hi. How are you?

BLOCK: I'm OK. Congressman McDermott, before the deal was reached, you called this issue the president's Gettysburg. I guess you were referring to this as a test of his ability to withstand the Republican assault. I'm curious now that there is a deal, what metaphor, or what battle you might choose?

Rep. McDERMOTT: Well, I really think this is the turning point for his administration. The Republicans have been bullying for two years. And there is a time when you're dealing with a bully where you have to just stop and fight. And I think this is as good a place as any to do it, because they've been using the unemployed as hostages, and that simply is unacceptable, as a way of trying to leverage the president into giving them these tax breaks that they want for the wealthy. So I think it's a great battle to pick. We got the high ground, and I think we can win it.

BLOCK: But the president seems to have decided that that's not a battle that he wants to fight. He said today in his news conference: I'm not here to play games with the American people. This will help the economy.

Rep. McDERMOTT: Well, unfortunately or fortunately, the Congress is where legislation is made. He can make a proposal to us, and that's fine. But I think that we will make our own decisions in the next couple of days about this, and I don't know how it will come out. But I think that there are a lot of people who agree with the president, and there are a lot of people who disagree. And I think it will be a good debate.

BLOCK: Do you think you would have numbers in the House to defeat legislation along the lines of what the president has agreed to here?

Rep. McDERMOTT: Well, it depends how far the hypocrisy of the Republicans will go. They have been yelling and screaming about deficit spending and deficit spending and deficit spending and it's the end of the country if we have deficit spending. Now, if they stick by that, then it's going to be very hard for them to support this tax proposal because it creates another trillion dollars in debt. So if they don't support it, then the Democrats, I think, will be split. And I don't think we know how that's going to come out.

BLOCK: Well, Congressman McDermott, included in this deal are some things that I assume you would support: jobless benefits renewed for the long-term unemployed, a one-year reduction in Social Security taxes for workers. Do those outweigh the question - the problems that you have with extending the tax cuts on the top earners?

Rep. McDERMOTT: There are two questions here. One is a short-term question, and one is a long-term question. The income inequitability(ph) or inequality in this country has grown dramatically. In 1980, the top 5 percent of people in this country had $8 trillion in wealth. Today, they have $40 trillion in wealth. And this compromise simply extends and pushes more up to the top of the schedule. Now, that, in my belief, is unacceptable. In the long term, it is terrible for us.

In the short term, using the unemployed as hostages, I think, is a terrible precedent to set. Anytime they want to get something rotten through, they come and drag the unemployed out here and say, well, we'll give you another six months or whatever, another 13 months, but we're going to give two years of tax break to the rich. Where is the fairness in that? I come down on the side of thinking this is a bad deal, and I'm leaning against voting for it.

BLOCK: Leaning against? Are you a definite no-vote on this?

Rep. McDERMOTT: I'm just about there, yes.

BLOCK: Congressman McDermott, thanks for talking with us.

Rep. McDERMOTT: You're welcome.

BLOCK: That's Congressman Jim McDermott, Democrat of Washington state, representing the city of Seattle.

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