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The Intercept - June 24, 2019

... McConnell had gone around him to Biden. He said he was working on improving it and would be in touch throughout the day.

None of the senators had any business scheduled — it was New Year’s Eve, after all — so Sanders invited them back to his office in the Dirksen building. The Hart building has a popcorn machine, so Harkin asked his staff to bring some by. The crew ended up spending several hours together in Sanders’s office, thinking through potential strategies of opposition and waiting to hear from Reid.

Instead, one senator’s phone rang, and it was Joe Biden, calling to sell the deal he had cut. In classic Biden fashion, he offered a 10- to 15-minute soliloquy, a meandering argument that largely boiled down to: You can trust me; I’m your friend; this is a good deal. The senator could barely get a word in before the conversation ended.

Moments after he hung up, another cellphone rang, and it was Biden again. Unaware that the group was all together, Biden proceeded to call each of them, one after the other, delivering the same spiel. Biden’s flimsy argument, and his filibustering style of delivering it, became a running joke among the senators. “No one found it remotely persuasive,” said one person in the room.

Biden’s own characterization of his lobbying effort didn’t differ substantially from the recollection of those in the room. Asked that day by reporters what he had said to wavering senators, he replied: “I said, ‘This is Joe Biden and I’m your buddy.’”

I’m in

Ultimately, it fell to Reid to drag the progressive senators into line. Once it was clear that the White House was on board with Biden’s deal, and McConnell was all in, that meant that there would be at least 70 or 80 votes for it. The progressive bloc could vote no, but it would only send a message of discord and have no effect on the outcome, Reid told them, coaxing them to support the deal he himself loathed. In the end, all the progressive senators except Harkin voted for the deal. It passed 89-8.

Years later, Reid still regrets how it went down. “If we’d have gone over the cliff, we’d have had resources to do a lot of good things in the country — infrastructure development — but it didn’t work out that way,” Reid said. Letting all the tax rates go back to pre-Bush levels would have yielded the Treasury around $3 trillion over 10 years. Instead, the deal ultimately brought in around $600 billion (or would have, if taxes hadn’t been slashed again by Republicans in 2018). Without the deal, taxes on dividend payments to the rich would have been set at 39.6 percent. Under the terms of the deal, they would be set at 20 percent, meaning that the super-wealthy would be paying lower tax rates on their passive dividend income than some working people would pay on their salaries.

I asked Reid how Biden defended the strategy that day.

“It wasn’t one that I agreed with,” he replied politely, “so you’d have to ask some of his people.”

His people declined to comment. ...
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