Bonusgate poses an interesting question to the republicans: do they ride the wave of populist revolution sweeping the nation, or object to government interfering in the business of business? As Slate’s Christopher Beam writes, the bonus tax vote was an excellent illustration of this: John Boehner, realizing that to oppose the tax as a bloc would equate to self-immolation, he told other republicans to “vote their conscience” giving 85 of them clearance to join with most of the democrats in passing a 90% tax on bonuses for any company recieving $5 billion or more in bailout funds. The problem for them is that while no one would punish them for supporting this tax, the public might have calmed down moved on to another outrage in 2010, thus leaving the GOP to explain to its base why it so forcefully opposed Obama’s budget for not including enough tax cuts, then turned right around and threw their own lassiez-faire philosophy out the window. For now they’ve made a good choice in not seizing upon it as an issue, although again this would be suicidal in the current environment. I just don’t know what they plan to tell their more conservative base voters when the inevitable democratic attack ads begin pointing out the obvious contradictions.

On a related note, I find the precedent set by the bonus tax somewhat unnerving. I do think it’s justified in the current situation, but I worry about the prospects of congress gathering enough votes to rob a politically convenient target when budgets are tight. I think we’re ok for now, but it’s certainly something to keep on file.

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