Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, the new No. 3 leader of House Democrats in the 112th Congress, said it’s not “essential” for Congress to extend the Bush tax cuts because if all income taxes go up as scheduled on January 1, “you’ve got a big deficit reduction taking place, which is also a good thing.”
Clyburn is the first Democratic leader to suggest any benefit from a failure to extend the Bush-era tax cuts. The White House and every Democratic leader to date has described extension of the middle-class portion of the Bush tax cuts as a top economic and political priority.
Clyburn made his comments on a C-SPAN Newsmakers interview that will air Sunday.
Clyburn said he hoped Democrats and the White House resolve how to extend the Bush tax cuts but rejected a recently-floated compromise idea from New York Sen. Charles Schumer – the new leader of policy and communications in the Senate Democratic caucus – that the current threshold of $250,000 for families and $200,000 for individuals be raised to $1 million.
Clyburn said he prefers keeping the $250,000 threshold and waffled on whether the lame duck Congress would find a solution.
“I would hope House Democrats come down where I am and that is a middle income tax cut $250,000 or less,” Clyburn said. “I’m not going to budge. I think that we (Speaker Nancy Pelosi) are together on that. Now the House is a different animal than the Senate. So the Senate will do what it can do and we’ll look at whether we’ll have some negotiations or some kind of ping-pong activity. I don’t know that it’s essential or not. But I tell you what, some people would say that if that doesn’t get solved you’ve got a big deficit reduction taking place, which is also a good thing. So, there is a bright side to this no matter what you do.”
Clyburn also said he expects many Democrats who lost bids for reelection to run again in 2012 and has already begun the process of recruiting them for rematches.
“I’ve talked to some of them already and they will be out there running again,” Clyburn said. “These people knew they would pay a price. A lot of them thought they would still win, and I think they would have, but for the unemployment rate. As we go forward, when you’ve got people on the other side saying what we want to do is make sure this president doesn’t get a second term, well, what you ought to be making sure of is that people get back to work.”
Clyburn said that, in many House races this year, Democrats had no chance – not because of the Obama agenda or perceived weaknesses in their leadership team, but because of persistent joblessness.
“I thought we had a good team. But we had headwinds out there that none of us could do anything about,” Clyburn said. “I learned in Politics 101 that if you’ve got 10 percent unemployment, no matter what else you do that’s a curtain you cannot break through. That’s what we had here. We did the right things. And we have been creating jobs. We’re going in the right direction. But we’re traveling at 15 to 20 miles an hour and people think it would be better if we were traveling at 55-60 miles an hour. We’ve got to speed up this recovery. We’re on the right track. We’re on the right road. We just aren’t going fast enough.”
Clyburn also said Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel of New York has been treated fairly by the House Ethics Committee and that he’s being held to a higher standard of personal conduct because of his stature as the House leader on tax policy.
“There was sloppiness and unintended actions taken that violated the ethics rules,” Clyburn said. “All of this was unintentional on his part. Some people do not pay as close attention to their day-to-day stuff as other people do. He was held to a higher standard. If he were not chair of the Ways and Means Committee, I think a lot of this would have been different.”
Clyburn said Rangel has not asked him to offer a defense against the Ethics Committee’s recommendation of censure, but that he would offer one if asked or if he thought the circumstances warranted. It’s clear he views Rangel as a somewhat sympathetic figure who neither profited from his misdeeds nor knowingly sought to bring disrepute on the House or the Democratic Party.
“The prosecutor still said nothing intentional, a whole lot of sloppiness -- in his personal stuff,”
Clyburn said. “No one ever said he was ever sloppy on the people’s business. You can always tell the painter’s house, because that’s usually the House that needs a paint job. A lot of people forego their personal stuff and stay very focused on making sure they are protecting the public."
Clyburn also for the first time described his hybrid leadership position in the new Congress, assistant to the minority leader, the third rung of power, one created in a power-sharing arrangement forged by Pelosi with the acquiescence of incoming Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland, whom Clyburn had challenged for the whip’s position before being offered the new job – one that will come with valuable perks.
“I will have an office, I will have staff and I will be taking on a portfolio that’s a little bit different from what we’ve had in the past,” Clyburn said, who added the idea of taking a step back in leadership to his previous post of caucus chair “was not attractive to me.”
“I’m looking to really add significantly to our leadership discussions and be able to translate to the American people what our policies are all about,” Clyburn said.
“We ought to play on each other’s strength. She (Pelosi) is a very focused organizer, she’s a prolific fund-raiser, she knows politics as good as anybody I’ve ever been around in my life, she’s a great tactician,” Clyburn said, conspicuously leaving out the role of party communicator in his list of Pelosi’s strengths. When asked if he was describing a less-visible, behind-the-scenes role for Pelosi, Clyburn swiftly back-tracked.
“She is our spokesperson. She is our minority leader. She was there four years ago in front of the camera. She’ll be there again. All I’m saying is I want to be there with her in a much more proactive role than I’ve been in the past.”