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Elmer Smith: For Prez & tax bill, a different week

LAST WEEK, the prevailing narrative was that President Obama had emerged from the back room with his pockets turned out, nursing a fat lip.

LAST WEEK, the prevailing narrative was that President Obama had emerged from the back room with his pockets turned out, nursing a fat lip.

Everybody was saying it. Orthodox liberals accused him of selling their birthright for a bowl of lentils. Smug Republicans were congratulating each other on how they chumped him in the schoolyard.

Even those of us who felt he was going to have to make a deal on the tax cuts eventually took him to task for doing it sooner rather than later, as if delaying the deal would preserve our principles.

That was last week.

This week the deal is speeding through the legislative mill faster than a resolution to honor our Founding Fathers. The Senate will wrap the thing in a bow for delivery to the House as early as today.

Some House Democrats have pledged to block its progress with their prone bodies in a scene reminiscent of Tiananmen Square. But it won't happen.

Because this week is different from last week in the way that politics differs from religion.

In politics, good and evil get computed on a sliding scale. Nobody gets all he wants.

I certainly didn't. Any deal that ends with 3 percent of the taxpayers pocketing 38 percent of the tax cuts seems fundamentally unfair to me. Raising the limits on the estate tax to shield up to $10 million of every private estate from taxation runs counter to my belief that government ought to propel upward mobility and not protect inherited wealth and privilege.

Unlike the purists on both sides, I won't pretend to be outraged by the $858 billion in debt that the Congressional Budget Office says this deal adds to a swelling deficit. When I count up the stuff my side got, I can live with a little bloat.

By the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation's tally, the compromise included $270 billion worth of stuff I like, such as a one-year reduction of Social Security taxes, a reduction in the number of couples exposed to alternative minimum tax, a temporary repeal of limits on itemized deductions and a repeal of the phaseout for personal exemptions.

In total, more than 60 percent of these tax cuts will go to working-class and middle-class families, in addition to the $57 billion bill for the extension of unemployment benefits.

It's called compromise. John Boehner, the next speaker of the House, can't make his mouth form the word. He looked like a guy passing a kidney stone when "60 Minutes" interviewer Lesley Stahl tried to get him to say it.

"I prefer to say common ground," he said.

He had to interrupt the interview a few times when that perpetual wellspring in his eye sockets kept bubbling up. You could put a dent in the national debt by opening a Kleenex stand outside his office.

This is the champion of the tough guys who supposedly took the president's lunch money last week. He's two heartbeats away from the Oval Office and a possible candidate for the GOP presidential nod.

He has the best backstory in politics: one of 12 children, went to work at age 10 mopping the floors in his daddy's taproom. He met his wife while working the swing shift as a janitor in her building.

Makes Horatio Alger sound like an aristocrat.

But the real world of politics is not so neat. If Boehner and the GOP pull off a win in 2012, it will be in part because they ignored the tea party and other conservative purists who say that the tax deal violates all that they consider holy.

A group called the Tea Party Patriots began circulating a petition last week to block the bill and call out the GOP lawmakers who made the deal.

But this week, both the ABC-Washington Post poll and a poll by the Pew Research center show 2-to-1 public support for the tax deal.

This week, Barack Obama looks like a guy who knows how to shake hands and come out fighting.

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