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Compromise: No one wins

12/14/2010, 8:02 a.m.
“I guess they are putting our unemployment benefits at risk.”

Compromise: No one wins

As president of the United States, Barack Obama must comply with diplomatic protocol when referring to other sovereign leaders, regardless of their iniquitous reputations. There are no similar restrictions on communications with domestic political opponents. However, Obama is by disposition decorous and respectful.

Obama’s courtly demeanor in the conflict over income tax cuts induced many Democrats to believe that he was not fighting aggressively enough for the liberal point of view. Understandably, they saw no reason to respect as valid the morally bankrupt Republican strategy of holding unemployment benefits hostage to the extension of tax cuts for millionaires.

Liberal Democrats wanted to hear bellicose rumblings from the White House, especially since Republican leaders were not very deferential in their references to the president. While a war of angry words might have brought the liberals comfort, that is not the president’s style. Obama is committed to getting things done.

By definition, every negotiation involves give and take on both sides. A deal is not consummated until each side believes that they have gained enough of their demands at a price they are willing to pay. When applying that standard, Obama clearly cut a good deal for the average American.

With unemployment benefits expiring for many families during the Christmas season, Obama was intent on an extension. He obtained that for not just a year but for 99 weeks. Those whose benefits have already expired will be paid retroactively.

Another major objective was to retain the tax cuts for middle class Americans. Obama did more than that. He also obtained a cut in payroll taxes, and he extended the Earned Income Tax Credit for low- and moderate-income individuals. Also, the plan will extend the $1,000 child tax credit for children under the age of 17 who qualify.

In order to obtain these benefits, Obama had to agree to extend the tax cuts for the wealthy for a period of two years. In addition, the tax rate for estates of more than $5 million will be 35 percent from Jan. 1, rather than 55 percent. There was also a provision that allowed businesses to write off the cost of capital expenditures at a faster rate.

Some Democrats insist that they could have negotiated a better deal, but Obama insists that the risk of failure was too high. The vote in Congress in 2011 is unpredictable with the victors of November’s wild elections taking office. Obama explained that he was motivated to resolve the matter in the current session because “…the hostage was the American people, and I was not willing to see them get harmed.”

Some congressional leaders in Massachusetts have claimed that they could have done better in negotiations, but these are Democrats who were unable to hold onto a Senate seat that had been occupied for decades by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. Would they really so casually place at risk the expiring benefits of the unemployed?

Obama has negotiated a sound agreement, one likely to make its way through Congress before Dec. 31. The only thing missing was the usual political theatrics that provide some entertainment value on the TV news. Indeed, the unemployed whose benefits have expired are more interested in a speedy resolution.