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On tax cuts, a game of chicken GOP can win

By Roland S. Martin, CNN Political Contributor
  • Roland Martin says President Obama and the Democrats won't fight the GOP on tax cuts
  • Republicans march in lockstep, while Democrats squabble when things get tough, says Martin
  • The president should stick to his guns and draw a line in the sand on Bush tax cuts, Martin says

Editor's note: Roland Martin is a syndicated columnist and author of "The First: President Barack Obama's Road to the White House." He is a commentator for TV One Cable network and host/managing editor of its Sunday morning news show, Washington Watch with Roland Martin.

(CNN) -- "Wait for it! Wait for it! Wait for it!"

That's the famous line comedian Katt Williams uses in his standup act as a signal to his audience that the punch line to one of his jokes is coming.

That could also be the motto for Republicans these days when it comes to the Democrats eventually caving on the Bush tax cuts. For all of the bravado during the midterm elections coming from President Barack Obama, Sen. Harry Reid and countless other Democrats about not extending the cuts for millionaires and billionaires, it is becoming abundantly clear that Dems don't have the intestinal fortitude to face down the GOP on this issue.

For several months President Obama has said that he is willing to extend the Bush tax cuts for married couples making less than $250,000, which, over time, will have a $3 trillion effect on the U.S. deficit. Yet he has said the nation's richest Americans -- those making more than $250,000 -- don't need the tax break, and the United States doesn't need the additional $700 billion impact on the deficit.

The argument seems pretty simple, and when you look at the polling data, it backs up the president. Poll after poll shows that most folks support extending the Bush tax cuts on the middle class, and not on the top 2% of wage earners in America.

But the position of the Republicans is simple: we will acquiesce on tax cuts, and if all tax cuts aren't extended, none will be extended. That's why incoming Speaker of the House, Ohio Republican John Boehner, labeled as "chicken crap" the bill that passed the House this week extending the cuts for those couple earning under $250,000.

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In fact, congressional Republicans released a letter this week saying they will block any legislation Democrats offer up before dealing with the Bush tax cuts.

They have drawn a clear line in the sand, and don't care one bit about bipartisanship, while demanding that President Obama compromise his position to come to their side of the room.

The calculation of the Obama administration is clear: If we can negotiate a deal that temporarily extends the cuts for all, and we can get unemployment benefits extended, then that's a win-win for the economy and all will be well.

But it won't. Republicans will portray such a move as their having forced the president's hand, making him bow down to their wishes. Meanwhile, the left will see this as the latest example of a party and a White House bending over backwards to do what they say is right for America, while the opposition makes it clear they want to do what is right for their political base.

Frankly, the Republicans are going to play chicken with the Democrats and force them to blink because they know Dems--and yes, President Obama included--don't have the stomach to fight. Republican Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell says his No. 1 goal is to make President Obama a one-termer, and the White House responds with smiles and "can-we-all-just-get-along" happy talk.

Whether you disagree with them or not, Republicans have always been willing to use fear to their advantage, even if that means a burn-the-boats mentality. Like it or not, they are tougher than Democrats, and even the Democrats know it.

While the Dems have to deal with a caucus mixed with Blue Dogs, doves, African Americans, Hispanics, and gays and lesbians, the Republicans have mostly hard chargin' white conservatives who are in lockstep with one another. The message: we ride and die together. The Dems message? Feel free to jump off if the road gets a little bumpy and your stomach goes squeamish.

If President Obama really believes that extending the Bush tax cuts for the richest of the richest is so bad, he should draw a line in the sand: it's either a cut for those making less than $250,000, or else. Is it risky? Absolutely. Is the White House concerned that there could be a backlash if the GOP doesn't blink and the Senate refuses to take up the House legislation? Of course it is.

But if your opposition always thinks you're going to back down eventually, they'll just wait you out until you give out. For the GOP, Dec. 31 is the drop-dead date for the cuts to expire. They are going to hold out for all the cuts because they know the Dems will cave.

The Democratic Party isn't willing to flood the zone and truly paint the Republican as standing in the way of the middle class getting a tax break. They aren't willing to go to the mats and fight what is a so-called conviction.

Malcolm X once said the most dangerous man is one who isn't afraid to die. Let me say now that the most susceptible man (or woman) is one who talks big, but shrivels into a fetal position when push comes to shove. Democrats may be showing us they are unwilling to back up their talk with action.

And the Republicans are counting on that.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roland Martin.