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Play Nice if You're Playing to Win 2012

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If President Obama wants to get reelected in 2012, it seems like he is going to have to be relentless about bipartisanship.

One might argue that for the first time the top Republican leadership and President Obama's interests are aligned. Neither wants to be blamed for the legislative gridlock that everyone is predicting over the next two years.

Going into 2012, obstructionism isn't a winning strategy for Republicans or for the President. People are paying attention now to how well the kids are playing together in the sandbox, and the most prized toy in 2012 will again be the independent vote. Independents want bipartisanship not because they want the parties to work together philosophically, but because they want to see our system of representative democracy produce results. The party that is seen as the greatest obstacle to productivity will get ousted in 2012.

Thus, both the Republican leadership and the President are properly incentivized to figure out how they are going to work together. The first test will be the Bush tax cuts.

The White House is in the worst position it's ever been in this debate, having lost all leverage from their original position, which was to let the tax cuts expire for the top 2 percent of earners. After the results of the midterm elections, the President recognizes that he will be in an even worse bargaining position in January, when Republicans have the majority in the House.

So here's the question for President Obama and the Democrats: What's the next best alternative to what we initially wanted?

Both sides will pay a heavy price in 2012 if they let the tax cuts expire for 98 percent of Americans during the lame duck session. Congress chose to postpone a decision on the tax cuts until after the midterms, so simply holding ground and hoping that voters won't cast the blame on Democrats if their taxes increase on January 1 is not a tenable position for the White House.

Democrats could support a millionaire's tax, which would extend the Bush tax cuts for everyone except those earning more than $1 million. Democrats could also support the extension of all the Bush tax cuts if they are coupled with other spending and tax cuts like an extension of unemployment benefits, a payroll tax cut and Republican-supported measures to help businesses.

While it's clear that there will ultimately be a compromise of preferences, regardless of the outcome that Democrats and Republicans decide to pursue, they cannot saddle working families with the burden of their petty politics. We must move beyond that.

Reshma Saujani ran an unsuccessful campaign in the 2010 Democratic primary against Rep. Carolyn Maloney in New York's 14th district, which covers Manhattan and Western Queens. A community activist, attorney for hedge funds and a legal scholar, she is a graduate of the University of Illinois, received her Masters in Public Policy from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and her JD from Yale Law School.