Commentary Magazine


Topic: fiscal cliff

Time-Out May Be the GOP’s Best Option

The top news out of the House Republican retreat in Williamsburg, Virginia is that the party is considering a short-term extension of the debt limit in order to give the party more time to try and convince their Democratic antagonists to start cutting spending. The proposal, which according to the New York Times, is being floated by Rep. Paul Ryan, could wind up connecting the debt ceiling issue with the deadline for the implementation of sequestration that would mandate devastating across-the-board spending cuts. That would theoretically give the GOP some room to maneuver in order to avoid a confrontation with President Obama that few think they would win. But it is hard to avoid the impression that the main object of a delay would be to deal with the Republicans’ biggest problems: a lack of unity.

Like a sports team in disarray, the GOP needs a time out where they can catch their breath and somehow get on the same page with each other. As the votes over House Speaker John Boehner’s Plan B and then the final fiscal cliff deal revealed, the party is badly split between those who don’t want to give an inch on spending and taxes, those who think that compromise with the president is inevitable and those who believe the best the party can do is to speak out for its principles and oppose tactics that will blow up the economy and help demonize the party. But the problem for the Republican leadership is that even if they can buy themselves some more time to get their fractious caucus in line, the likelihood that a confident and aggressive President Obama will either accept a short-term extension or deal honestly with them on the issues.

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The top news out of the House Republican retreat in Williamsburg, Virginia is that the party is considering a short-term extension of the debt limit in order to give the party more time to try and convince their Democratic antagonists to start cutting spending. The proposal, which according to the New York Times, is being floated by Rep. Paul Ryan, could wind up connecting the debt ceiling issue with the deadline for the implementation of sequestration that would mandate devastating across-the-board spending cuts. That would theoretically give the GOP some room to maneuver in order to avoid a confrontation with President Obama that few think they would win. But it is hard to avoid the impression that the main object of a delay would be to deal with the Republicans’ biggest problems: a lack of unity.

Like a sports team in disarray, the GOP needs a time out where they can catch their breath and somehow get on the same page with each other. As the votes over House Speaker John Boehner’s Plan B and then the final fiscal cliff deal revealed, the party is badly split between those who don’t want to give an inch on spending and taxes, those who think that compromise with the president is inevitable and those who believe the best the party can do is to speak out for its principles and oppose tactics that will blow up the economy and help demonize the party. But the problem for the Republican leadership is that even if they can buy themselves some more time to get their fractious caucus in line, the likelihood that a confident and aggressive President Obama will either accept a short-term extension or deal honestly with them on the issues.

The argument for a time out is that in its current condition with a leadership that can’t count on its members to agree to back a unified strategy on fiscal issues, Republicans are doomed to defeat no matter what option they choose. The president is counting on the GOP splintering into warring factions and has done his best to help that process along by goading his opponents whenever possible including his stunning attack on them even as the two sides were negotiating a deal to prevent the nation from going over the fiscal cliff earlier this month.

As Robert Costa and Andrew Stiles noted in their sum up from the retreat, even though Republicans remain in control of the House, the tone of the gathering was that of a defeated party searching for answers. Given the shock felt by many in the party over the president’s re-election and the beatings they’ve received over the debt ceiling and the fiscal cliff, that’s understandable. But Bill Kristol’s advice to them to “suck it up,” is exactly what they need to hear.

I think those Republicans who want to make a stand on the debt ceiling are right. Even though the odds are against them prevailing in such a battle, the party can’t simply stand by and let President Obama off the hook without at least trying to stop him by whatever means are at their disposal. That sort of surrender would split the GOP and make it harder for them to recover at the next midterm.

But the one given in this equation is that without a united caucus, House Republicans haven’t a prayer of doing anything effective to halt the country’s drift toward insolvency and to head off new taxes.

For all of their pessimism, the GOP still controls the power of the purse. President Obama may have the wind at his back right now but his political capital is finite. So is his time. If conservatives can use the coming weeks to agree on a strategy to exploit his weaknesses — such as the division among Democrats and the president’s refusal to deal with entitlement reform — their position could be stronger than they think. The question is do Boehner, Eric Cantor or even Paul Ryan have the ability to convince their colleagues that if they don’t hang together, their hopes of stopping Obama from worsening the nation’s problems are nonexistent.

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Barack Obama, Negotiator

At his press conference yesterday:

The president demanded that the Republicans surrender their most powerful bargaining chip—the debt ceiling—first and then “I’m happy to have a conversation about deficit reduction.” Translation: Give me everything I want first and then we’ll talk.

He threatened that “If congressional Republicans refuse to pay America’s bills on time, Social Security checks, and veterans benefits will be delayed.” Translation: I’ll choose not to pay the bills that will cause maximum political blow-back and the mainstream media will see to it that the Republicans bear all the blame.

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At his press conference yesterday:

The president demanded that the Republicans surrender their most powerful bargaining chip—the debt ceiling—first and then “I’m happy to have a conversation about deficit reduction.” Translation: Give me everything I want first and then we’ll talk.

He threatened that “If congressional Republicans refuse to pay America’s bills on time, Social Security checks, and veterans benefits will be delayed.” Translation: I’ll choose not to pay the bills that will cause maximum political blow-back and the mainstream media will see to it that the Republicans bear all the blame.

He lied that “The last time Republicans in Congress even flirted with this idea, our AAA credit rating was downgraded for the first time in our history.” It was, of course, downgraded for the long-term outlook of the federal government’s finances, not for any delay in raising the debt ceiling.

He blamed “some House Republicans, [for insisting] that, ‘Nope, we gotta do it our way. And if we don’t, we simply won’t pay America’s bills.’” Translation: I get to refuse to negotiate, you don’t.

He slandered the party that controls one house of Congress: “But it seems as if what’s motivating and propelling at this point some of the House Republicans is more than simply deficit reduction. They have a particular vision about what government should and should not do, so they are suspicious about government’s commitments, for example, to make sure that seniors have decent health care as they get older. They have suspicions about Social Security. They have suspicions about whether government should make sure that kids in poverty are getting enough to eat or whether we should be spending money on medical research.” Translation: Republicans want children to starve, old ladies to freeze in their beds, and cancer to run rampant.

He implied that Republicans favor “corporate loopholes” in the tax code by saying that “it makes a lot more sense for us to close, for example, corporate loopholes before we go to putting a bigger burden on students or seniors.” Translation: My billionaire pals, such as Hollywood, “green energy” crony capitalists, and Chuck Schumer’s hedge fund tycoons paying only 15 percent on their nine-figure incomes, keep the loopholes I insisted on including in the fiscal cliff deal. The brain-dead Washington press corps will never call me a hypocrite.

I have only one question. Where did President Obama learn the art of negotiation? Ramallah?

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GOP Can Start Reining in the Debt

Democrats had good reason to celebrate President Obama’s victory in the fiscal cliff. The House Republican caucus wasn’t just routed; it was nearly torn apart, leading some observers as well as many of the president’s supporters to suppose that this was just the first of a series of triumphs in which their liberal agenda will be imposed on the nation as the GOP fades into insignificance. Perhaps they actually think the president can get away with making the deficit or the debt ceiling go away by merely minting a trillion-dollar platinum coin. But like other triumphalist predictions from both parties in the last decade, such expectations are bound to lead to severe disappointment. Republicans remain in control of the House and any idea that the president can impose further tax increases on the nation while failing to address the need for entitlement reform that is necessary to solve our long-term fiscal crisis is pure fantasy. That’s why so many on the left are pushing hard right now to persuade Republicans to give up the one clear piece of leverage they have over the budget process: the need to raise the debt ceiling within the next two months.

As Pete Wehner wrote last week, using that upcoming deadline to force the president to give in on spending cuts is a perilous enterprise. Past attempts to hold Democrats’ feet to the fire on the budget in this manner have failed miserably. Nevertheless, as I pointed out on Sunday, unilateral surrender on the debt ceiling is not an option for Speaker John Boehner. They must fight not only for the sake of the cause of fiscal sanity but to avoid a meltdown of their caucus that will strengthen the ability of Democrats to get their way on taxes and spending and lessening their own chances of a comeback in 2014. The question is how to do so without being seen as irresponsible hostage takers who don’t care about the damage a government shutdown would have on the economy. A number of ideas are floating around, but Dick Morris floated one yesterday in the Hill that is worth considering: phasing in limited debt ceiling hikes that would avoid a government shutdown but would not be enough to allow the president to avoid having to negotiate on entitlement reform and other spending issues.

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Democrats had good reason to celebrate President Obama’s victory in the fiscal cliff. The House Republican caucus wasn’t just routed; it was nearly torn apart, leading some observers as well as many of the president’s supporters to suppose that this was just the first of a series of triumphs in which their liberal agenda will be imposed on the nation as the GOP fades into insignificance. Perhaps they actually think the president can get away with making the deficit or the debt ceiling go away by merely minting a trillion-dollar platinum coin. But like other triumphalist predictions from both parties in the last decade, such expectations are bound to lead to severe disappointment. Republicans remain in control of the House and any idea that the president can impose further tax increases on the nation while failing to address the need for entitlement reform that is necessary to solve our long-term fiscal crisis is pure fantasy. That’s why so many on the left are pushing hard right now to persuade Republicans to give up the one clear piece of leverage they have over the budget process: the need to raise the debt ceiling within the next two months.

As Pete Wehner wrote last week, using that upcoming deadline to force the president to give in on spending cuts is a perilous enterprise. Past attempts to hold Democrats’ feet to the fire on the budget in this manner have failed miserably. Nevertheless, as I pointed out on Sunday, unilateral surrender on the debt ceiling is not an option for Speaker John Boehner. They must fight not only for the sake of the cause of fiscal sanity but to avoid a meltdown of their caucus that will strengthen the ability of Democrats to get their way on taxes and spending and lessening their own chances of a comeback in 2014. The question is how to do so without being seen as irresponsible hostage takers who don’t care about the damage a government shutdown would have on the economy. A number of ideas are floating around, but Dick Morris floated one yesterday in the Hill that is worth considering: phasing in limited debt ceiling hikes that would avoid a government shutdown but would not be enough to allow the president to avoid having to negotiate on entitlement reform and other spending issues.

As Morris writes:

The Republicans should offer to pass a bill now setting a debt limit that rises each quarter pegged to one-third of the revenue growth of the preceding quarter. Thus, two-thirds of all revenue growth — natural or due to tax hikes — would go to deficit reduction.

Republicans are unwilling to pull the trigger on default by refusing to raise the debt limit. But a bill to allow gradual increases in the debt limit, at a pace slower than revenue growth, need not trigger default. Instead, the president would be forced to prioritize his spending and borrowing so as to avoid default, pay the military and send out Social Security checks. All the rhetorical handles he has to battle an effort to kill the debt-limit increase will be gone in the face of a phased-in debt-limit hike.

Critics of the idea can certainly point out that this proposal could turn out to be as ineffectual as Boehner’s Plan B fiscal cliff plan that was dead on arrival in the House and never would have been passed in the Senate or signed by the president. We should certainly expect the president to stick to his refusal to negotiate on the debt ceiling at least initially. But Morris is right that what the GOP needs to avoid is an all-or-nothing approach to the debt that will only make Obama look like the reasonable one in the negotiation, even if his stand is no less ideological than that of his Tea Party foes.

As Pete wrote last week, conservatives need to use the upcoming months to articulate their vision for the country. But so long as they control the House they must use that body’s power of the purse to fight for the principles that the voters expect them to uphold. That requires what Morris calls a “flexible response” to a difficult fiscal and political problem. So long as Republicans are willing to raise the ceiling and avoid the shutdown that Obama believes will only strengthen his hand, they have a chance to win their point. The phased approach may not be perfect, but it is as good a scheme for thwarting Obama’s tax madness as I’ve heard in the last week.

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Liberals’ Idea of Tax Reform Shows Who Are the Real Extremists

President Obama made it clear he wasn’t going to be satisfied with the tax increase on upper income earners that he forced on Congress during the showdown over the fiscal cliff. Though in fact all wage earners suffered a loss this week as the payroll taxes surged, the president and his liberal supporters are determined to inflict even more pain on more people in any upcoming budget talks. However, one of the leading advocates for the president’s redistributionist position, the New York Times editorial page, is worried that in settling for a deal that raised taxes on those earning more than $400,000 a year, he has made it harder for the left to foist another job-killing tax increase on the country. So, to make this bitter pill easier for Americans to swallow, the Times claims that plans to confiscate more private income for government use is actually “reform.”

Leaving aside the fact that trying to squeeze more revenue for the government out of taxpayers won’t do much, if anything, to avert the budget crisis, the use of the word reform in this context is straight out of Orwell. Reform implies making the system fairer, which for some on the left is synonymous with soaking the rich. But a genuine reform of the system is one that will incentivize achievement, not penalizing it as well as making the labyrinthine code simpler and more understandable. But when liberals use this word it is merely code for policy driven by left-wing ideology and not pragmatism or the country’s economic health.

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President Obama made it clear he wasn’t going to be satisfied with the tax increase on upper income earners that he forced on Congress during the showdown over the fiscal cliff. Though in fact all wage earners suffered a loss this week as the payroll taxes surged, the president and his liberal supporters are determined to inflict even more pain on more people in any upcoming budget talks. However, one of the leading advocates for the president’s redistributionist position, the New York Times editorial page, is worried that in settling for a deal that raised taxes on those earning more than $400,000 a year, he has made it harder for the left to foist another job-killing tax increase on the country. So, to make this bitter pill easier for Americans to swallow, the Times claims that plans to confiscate more private income for government use is actually “reform.”

Leaving aside the fact that trying to squeeze more revenue for the government out of taxpayers won’t do much, if anything, to avert the budget crisis, the use of the word reform in this context is straight out of Orwell. Reform implies making the system fairer, which for some on the left is synonymous with soaking the rich. But a genuine reform of the system is one that will incentivize achievement, not penalizing it as well as making the labyrinthine code simpler and more understandable. But when liberals use this word it is merely code for policy driven by left-wing ideology and not pragmatism or the country’s economic health.

In the view of the Times, anything that creates a more progressive system in which more money is siphoned out of the private sector and into the hands of Washington is a form of reform no matter how convoluted the system might be. That’s a distraction from the country’s real problems that have everything to do with spending and little to do with not enough taxes. But it is also pure liberal cant rather than sensible economics.

But the Times is right on target in one respect. Having bulldozed Congress into the fiscal deal tax hike, the president and his followers are in no position to push for even more tax hikes. The payroll tax windfall for Uncle Sam also makes this argument difficult to sell to a skeptical public, let alone a Republican House of Representatives that is determined that it won’t be scammed in this manner again.

We can expect to hear more of this distorted argument in the coming weeks and months, but the main takeaway from this discussion ought to inform the way the upcoming debt ceiling fight is covered. Redistribution isn’t tax reform. It’s actually a way to avoid reform as well as irrelevant to the cause of preventing the country from sinking into bankruptcy. The Times editorial as well as the rhetoric coming out of the Democrats in recent days makes it apparent that instead of this confrontation being one between extremist Republicans and a sensible White House, the real ideologues in this argument are among the ranks of the president’s supporters.

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The Next Fight: Tea Partiers v. Hawks on Defense Cuts

The Hill reports that the defense industry is anxious the fiscal cliff tax deal may increase the likelihood of Pentagon cuts:

The defense industry is worried last week’s budget deal on taxes could damage its negotiating position for the next “fiscal cliff” deadline two months from now, when across-the-board spending cuts would take effect. 

The deficit debate is shifting from taxes toward spending cuts and the debt limit, where there will be more of a focus on new cuts to the Pentagon.

While the first fiscal cliff fight over taxes included the threat of massive across-the-board spending cuts, the sequel is going to be nearly all about where to cut spending. The Pentagon is the largest target outside of entitlements. …

Some defense analysts say that the shift in the Republican Party away from national security, with the rise of the Tea Party, was highlighted during the fiscal-cliff negotiations, where taxes trumped defense in importance. …

“Other issues have overtaken national security as being more important,” said Mackenzie Eaglen, a defense analyst at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute. 

“I think it does show how the Republican Party is no longer the party of national security, no longer a big-tent party of Reagan Republicans where a strong defense was a central tenet of conservatism.”

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The Hill reports that the defense industry is anxious the fiscal cliff tax deal may increase the likelihood of Pentagon cuts:

The defense industry is worried last week’s budget deal on taxes could damage its negotiating position for the next “fiscal cliff” deadline two months from now, when across-the-board spending cuts would take effect. 

The deficit debate is shifting from taxes toward spending cuts and the debt limit, where there will be more of a focus on new cuts to the Pentagon.

While the first fiscal cliff fight over taxes included the threat of massive across-the-board spending cuts, the sequel is going to be nearly all about where to cut spending. The Pentagon is the largest target outside of entitlements. …

Some defense analysts say that the shift in the Republican Party away from national security, with the rise of the Tea Party, was highlighted during the fiscal-cliff negotiations, where taxes trumped defense in importance. …

“Other issues have overtaken national security as being more important,” said Mackenzie Eaglen, a defense analyst at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute. 

“I think it does show how the Republican Party is no longer the party of national security, no longer a big-tent party of Reagan Republicans where a strong defense was a central tenet of conservatism.”

Fiscal conservatives argue that defense spending shouldn’t be immune from cuts, and they’re right. There is waste and mismanagement within the Pentagon, just like any other government bureaucracy, and there is undoubtedly room for reduction. What’s unacceptable is arbitrary, across-the-board cuts that would force the military to set priorities based on budget reductions, rather than the other way around. Defense should not be dealt with the same way as health care and entitlements; it’s the most important responsibility of the federal government. If there are specific areas where reductions can be made, that should be determined. But choosing a random number and asking the military to cut that much is not the way to do it.

It will be interesting to see whether this fiscal conservative v. defense hawk debate starts to play out during the Chuck Hagel confirmation hearings. There are senators on the Armed Services Committee who consider themselves fiscal conservatives first and foremost, and then there are others like John McCain and Lindsey Graham who vehemently disagree with Hagel’s support for major Pentagon cuts. The question will be whether any of the fiscal hawks come to Hagel’s defense because of his position on military spending.

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The GOP Can’t Surrender on Debt Ceiling

On Friday, my friend and colleague Peter Wehner wrote about the question of how the Republican Party can avoid a repeat of the fiscal cliff debacle in the upcoming months as a new deadline for raising the debt ceiling looms. Throughout the last few weeks, Pete has been spot-on in his analysis of what he rightly called the Republicans’ “losing hand” as President Obama and the Democrats forced them to accept a terrible fiscal cliff deal. Though some think the debt ceiling discussion will be very different from the cliff debate, Pete fears the GOP is headed down the same path and will suffer if they allow themselves to be portrayed as holding the country hostage again. To avoid that accusation as well as what he accurately describes as the futile pretense that the president will negotiate in good faith, he advises that they preemptively take the debt ceiling issue off the table sooner rather than later.

There is much to be said for this point of view, but I don’t believe Republicans can or should do as he says. If the Republican majority in the House of Representatives were to concede on the debt ceiling now they might as well just go home and let the Democrats have their way without the fig leaf of a debate. Doing so would tear the party apart and lessen rather than enhance their chances of winning in the 2014 midterms. Though Pete is right about the calamity of a rerun of the GOP fiascos of 1995 and 2011 and 2012 when they were beaten in such confrontations, there is more than one way to lose a political fight. As much as House Republicans need to worry about being marginalized as extremists who are willing to allegedly sabotage the economy to make an ideological point, they also need to worry about playing the role of the pliant opposition that is unable and unwilling to offer a stark alternative to the Democrats.

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On Friday, my friend and colleague Peter Wehner wrote about the question of how the Republican Party can avoid a repeat of the fiscal cliff debacle in the upcoming months as a new deadline for raising the debt ceiling looms. Throughout the last few weeks, Pete has been spot-on in his analysis of what he rightly called the Republicans’ “losing hand” as President Obama and the Democrats forced them to accept a terrible fiscal cliff deal. Though some think the debt ceiling discussion will be very different from the cliff debate, Pete fears the GOP is headed down the same path and will suffer if they allow themselves to be portrayed as holding the country hostage again. To avoid that accusation as well as what he accurately describes as the futile pretense that the president will negotiate in good faith, he advises that they preemptively take the debt ceiling issue off the table sooner rather than later.

There is much to be said for this point of view, but I don’t believe Republicans can or should do as he says. If the Republican majority in the House of Representatives were to concede on the debt ceiling now they might as well just go home and let the Democrats have their way without the fig leaf of a debate. Doing so would tear the party apart and lessen rather than enhance their chances of winning in the 2014 midterms. Though Pete is right about the calamity of a rerun of the GOP fiascos of 1995 and 2011 and 2012 when they were beaten in such confrontations, there is more than one way to lose a political fight. As much as House Republicans need to worry about being marginalized as extremists who are willing to allegedly sabotage the economy to make an ideological point, they also need to worry about playing the role of the pliant opposition that is unable and unwilling to offer a stark alternative to the Democrats.

Pete believes that since Republicans will have to give in on the debt ceiling eventually and will inevitably come out the losers in any such confrontation, they’ll do better by quickly discarding the illusion that they have any real leverage over the president. Instead, he thinks they should pick their fights carefully and use the coming months to put forward a competing vision of government that will bring us back to fiscal health. There is, he writes, no alternative but to patiently wait for the inevitable moment when the public tires of “Obamaism.” It will only be then that Republicans can implement a growth agenda based on low taxes and a far-reaching reform of entitlements and other spending that will ensure the nation’s fiscal health.

But while no one on the right should assume that they are in a strong position on the debt ceiling, it is not as weak as the one they were stuck with on the fiscal cliff. With the White House and the Senate obsessed with passing tax increases on the wealthy for ideological reasons and equally determined to avoid dealing with entitlements and spending, there was no way the GOP could stick to its own principles without allowing taxes to go up on all Americans.

Now that Obama has gotten his tax hike on the rich, the argument that the GOP is holding the nation hostage for the sake of millionaires is effectively neutered. The president arrogantly assumes that his status as a re-elected president is so secure that he can dictate not only the outcome of the negotiations but also even the nature of the debate. But as we approach the moment when the current debt ceiling will expire and a government shutdown is possible, the holdup is not a controversial Republican pledge to not raise taxes under any circumstance but a Democratic refusal to entertain substantive entitlement reform. The political advantage he gained in the past could disappear once the public understands that it is his arrogant refusal to deal that is the holdup rather than Tea Party extremism.

In the president’s favor is one of the factors that helped his re-election campaign: a liberal mainstream media that continues to paint the Republican position as radical rather than reformist. It’s entirely possible that any attempt to use the debt ceiling to force the president off his high horse on spending will be portrayed as a radical putsch that the reasonable commander-in-chief is right to oppose. If an already bruised GOP House doesn’t bow to his ultimatum, they will get another thorough working over in the press.

But what he fails to take into account is what will happen if they run up the white flag on the debt ceiling without a fight.

A surrender on those terms would lead to the sundering of the GOP that could derail what is left of Speaker John Boehner’s already shaky hold on his caucus. Without even the semblance of a fight, it won’t be just a couple of dozen Tea Partiers roaming off the reservation but a full-scale revolt. More than that, the base of the Republican Party that elected a conservative House majority will be sent a message that their votes were obtained with false promises. Any notion that an aroused conservative core of the party could be enticed to the polls in 2014 to reverse the Obama agenda will be lost.

As much as Boehner needs to avoid being fitted for the sort of Newt Gingrich clown suit that will ensure this coming debate ends as badly for the GOP as did their 1995 government shutdown, he also knows that the specter of Gingrich’s predecessor as head of the House Republicans looms over his efforts.

Bob Michel, the minority leader of the House of Representatives from 1981 to 1995, was an honorable public servant but he is also a symbol of everything that was wrong with the Republicans before the Gingrich-led Republican revolution. Many politicians and liberals in the media may lament what they consider the change from the more sedate political culture of that era to the angrier and less collegial style of politics that is practiced today. Indeed, they see a willingness of Republicans to use deadlines like the debt ceiling or the fiscal cliff to advance their cause as unthinkable breaches of courtesy that show how far out the GOP has become. But conservatives understand that when dealing with liberals it is just that go-along-to-get-along philosophy that is perhaps unfairly associated with the Michel era that led to Republicans being co-opted into backing up a corrupt and sinking system that is sending the country careening along the path to bankruptcy.

They can’t let that happen. There is a vast difference between the deferential style of a Michel-led GOP minority and what Pete thinks would be good politics and good policy now. But if Republicans don’t put up a fight and hold the president’s feet to the fire now, that will be seen by most Republicans and Democrats as a distinction without a difference.

The only way for House Republicans to be able to act as any kind of a check on the president’s plans for tax increases, more spending (though it will be called “investment”) and functional status quo on the chronic problem of entitlements in the next two years will be to stick together. That won’t be possible if Boehner caves.

There are worse things for the GOP than being branded as radicals by the president and his friends in the media. If John Boehner unilaterally surrenders on the debt ceiling, they will find that out.

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How to Prevent Another GOP Debacle

It’s certainly true that negotiations over how to avoid going over the fiscal cliff were particularly difficult ones for Republicans. President Obama had a huge negotiating advantage: If a deal wasn’t struck, taxes would go up on everyone, not just the high-income earners, and the military would be decimated by deep spending cuts. Presumably Republicans will be in a stronger position as we approach our next governing crisis: the debt ceiling deadline in early March.

There is a twin danger for the GOP, however. One is that they enter negotiations assuming the president is responsible and acting in good faith—and that a “good government” solution will be found and a grand bargain will be struck. That’s not going to happen. Mr. Obama is a dogmatist and a committed progressive. He has no interest in reining in spending or reforming entitlements. He wants to, in his words, “transform” America. And he has a burning desire to destroy the GOP.

The second danger facing Republicans is they once again engage in brinksmanship with the president—that they elevate the debt ceiling debate and (unwisely) threaten to allow the United States to default right up until the moment when they cave (which they would be forced to do).

My counsel to them would therefore be to take the threat of default off the table sooner rather than later. (One way to do this would be to pass legislation that increases the debt limit for, say, six months at a time.) Republicans should simultaneously put forward reasonable and realistic cuts to offset the increase in the debt limit, in the hope that they can secure some gains. Which leads me to my broader piece of advice. 

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It’s certainly true that negotiations over how to avoid going over the fiscal cliff were particularly difficult ones for Republicans. President Obama had a huge negotiating advantage: If a deal wasn’t struck, taxes would go up on everyone, not just the high-income earners, and the military would be decimated by deep spending cuts. Presumably Republicans will be in a stronger position as we approach our next governing crisis: the debt ceiling deadline in early March.

There is a twin danger for the GOP, however. One is that they enter negotiations assuming the president is responsible and acting in good faith—and that a “good government” solution will be found and a grand bargain will be struck. That’s not going to happen. Mr. Obama is a dogmatist and a committed progressive. He has no interest in reining in spending or reforming entitlements. He wants to, in his words, “transform” America. And he has a burning desire to destroy the GOP.

The second danger facing Republicans is they once again engage in brinksmanship with the president—that they elevate the debt ceiling debate and (unwisely) threaten to allow the United States to default right up until the moment when they cave (which they would be forced to do).

My counsel to them would therefore be to take the threat of default off the table sooner rather than later. (One way to do this would be to pass legislation that increases the debt limit for, say, six months at a time.) Republicans should simultaneously put forward reasonable and realistic cuts to offset the increase in the debt limit, in the hope that they can secure some gains. Which leads me to my broader piece of advice. 

The Republican Party tends to do quite poorly when it engages in high-profile negotiations/confrontations with Democratic presidents. It happened to Newt Gingrich in 1995 over Medicare and the government shutdown. It happened to the GOP Congress in 1998 over impeachment. And it happened to John Boehner and the GOP in the summer of 2011 and December 2012 over the debt ceiling and the fiscal cliff.

The reason for this has been, in part, because it’s impossible to govern when a party controls just one legislative chamber. The president, especially one with a sympathetic press, has enormous things working in his favor in any showdown with Congress. 

On the flip side, the two greatest electoral gains for Republicans in Congress happened in 1994 and 2010. Those elections were not preceded by dramatic, high-stakes, last-second negotiations that took place in a crisis atmosphere. Rather, they came in the aftermath of Democratic presidents and Democratically-controlled Congress’ overreaching. Republicans forcefully criticized the policies of Clinton (in 1993 and 1994) and Obama (in 2009 and 2010)–but they did not threaten to shut down the government, cause America to go into default, and encourage America to go over any fiscal cliffs.

So what does that mean for the here and now? The mindset of the GOP should be to jettison the idea that Obama is a responsible interlocutor (Speaker Boehner seems to have gotten that message in pledging that he will no longer negotiate one-on-one with Obama). Second, congressional Republicans should accept the fact that even though they have a majority in the House, their power to shape the governing agenda is still severely limited. There will be no meaningful reforms of entitlements or the tax code. Accept it; and accept that they cannot undo the damage of Obamaism so long as he remains president.

Republicans should of course check Mr. Obama’s ambitions where they can and when they occupy the political high ground (like on the implementation of ObamaCare). But trying to put America on a different course right now, given the present circumstances, is a fool’s errand. Prudence is a political virtue–and in this case, prudence argues for modesty of aims and expectations.

At the same time, Republicans in the House should pass bills with an eye toward sketching out an ambitious governing agenda—not in the hopes that it will ever become law during the Obama years, but simply to lay out a compelling alternative to Obama.

In sum, then: Republicans need to carefully pick their fights. Declare now that under no circumstances will they allow the U.S. to default on its debt–and then pass legislation to prove it. At the same time, Republicans should continue to argue for re-limiting government by offering up specific proposals. Hold hearings that highlight the failures of government. Demonstrate patience. Don’t try to remake the world. And lay out a reform agenda that Republicans would implement if Obama wasn’t president and if Republicans controlled both legislative chambers.

The public will eventually grow weary of Obama and Obamaism. The job of Republicans right now is not to get in the way of that process.

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Mr. Obama’s Planet

Saul Bellow used to joke that while the unexamined life is not worth living, the examined life will make you wish you were dead. The political equivalent might be that we can’t live with taxation without representation, but taxation with representation is going to kill us. 

By “us,” I mean those of us who like to find out what’s in a bill before Congress passes it; who would like our representatives to read bills before they vote on them; who want to see hearings on legislation before it is brought to a vote; and who would like to have it posted on a website for a few days before it is signed into law–just in case we have some questions after we find out what’s in it. For such people, Senator Rand Paul’s description of the Senate’s action in passing a $600 billion tax increase this week will be discouraging: 

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Saul Bellow used to joke that while the unexamined life is not worth living, the examined life will make you wish you were dead. The political equivalent might be that we can’t live with taxation without representation, but taxation with representation is going to kill us. 

By “us,” I mean those of us who like to find out what’s in a bill before Congress passes it; who would like our representatives to read bills before they vote on them; who want to see hearings on legislation before it is brought to a vote; and who would like to have it posted on a website for a few days before it is signed into law–just in case we have some questions after we find out what’s in it. For such people, Senator Rand Paul’s description of the Senate’s action in passing a $600 billion tax increase this week will be discouraging: 

I think it was 2:00 in the morning, and everybody kind of wanted to go home. And so I think nobody had a chance really to read the bill. I’m not sure the bill really was even around for anybody to read at 2:00 in the morning. It certainly defied all of the rules that we have in the Senate. We have one specific rule that says bills have to be online for 48 hours. So when things get thrown together hurriedly in the night, people have no idea what’s in these bills. 

At least the tax increase was called a tax increase. In 2010, President Obama pushed through Congress (at the last moment, with no hearings) a new 3.8 percent tax on investment income, calling it a “Medicare contribution.” But it was not a “contribution” and it had nothing to do with Medicare: it had no effect on the Medicare benefits of the person making the “contribution;” it had no effect on the Medicare benefits of anyone else; the revenue from the “contribution” did not go to the Medicare Trust Fund, but rather straight to the Treasury’s general fund, to be spent on things other than Medicare. 

The individual mandate under Obamacare will be enforced by what the legislation called a “shared responsibility payment.” None dared call it a “tax” while it was being considered, but when it got to the Supreme Court, the Obama administration argued a tax is what it was. Chief Justice John Roberts upheld it as a new kind of tax–a tax for not doing something. It used to be that taxes were levied on income earned or things done. Now we have “shared responsibility payments” for not doing what Congress wants us to do (although the chief justice agreed Congress had no power to require us to do it). Undoubtedly there will be more “failure-to-do-it” taxes in the future, now that they have been constitutionally blessed.

It would take an extraordinary novelist to come up with concepts like these–“shared responsibility payments” that are not “taxes” when they are considered but become new kinds of “taxes” after they’re passed; new “Medicare contributions” that don’t go to Medicare or its “trust fund;” $600 billion tax increases considered by the world’s greatest deliberative body at two in the morning, without the benefit of hearings or public comment or even a text. The resulting novel wouldn’t sell as fiction–no one would willingly suspend disbelief. But as non-fiction it might do quite well.

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Prime Minister Biden on the Upswing

Among the big winners of the resolution of the congressional fiscal cliff debacle was Vice President Joe Biden. Rather than being relegated to funeral duty by a president who initially had little use for him, Biden’s decades of experience on the Hill have proven to be an invaluable resource in this administration. Since neither the president nor his top aides have any talent for or even interest in serious deal-making with Congress and with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid similarly sidelined by his own bull-headed manner, Biden has emerged as a key player in a time of DC gridlock.

Biden’s ability to craft a deal with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made it clear that he, rather than the president or even Reid, has become an important Washington player in his own right. In effect, he is positioned to be the prime minister of a second Obama administration. That status will likely be reinforced by Biden’s lead role in pushing forward a new gun control initiative in the coming months. This should keep him in a spotlight that is brighter than is usual for a vice president even in an era when veeps are no longer the political equivalent of the missing persons bureau. And though 2016 is a long way off, these developments can only feed Biden’s still burning ambition to be president himself one day.

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Among the big winners of the resolution of the congressional fiscal cliff debacle was Vice President Joe Biden. Rather than being relegated to funeral duty by a president who initially had little use for him, Biden’s decades of experience on the Hill have proven to be an invaluable resource in this administration. Since neither the president nor his top aides have any talent for or even interest in serious deal-making with Congress and with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid similarly sidelined by his own bull-headed manner, Biden has emerged as a key player in a time of DC gridlock.

Biden’s ability to craft a deal with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made it clear that he, rather than the president or even Reid, has become an important Washington player in his own right. In effect, he is positioned to be the prime minister of a second Obama administration. That status will likely be reinforced by Biden’s lead role in pushing forward a new gun control initiative in the coming months. This should keep him in a spotlight that is brighter than is usual for a vice president even in an era when veeps are no longer the political equivalent of the missing persons bureau. And though 2016 is a long way off, these developments can only feed Biden’s still burning ambition to be president himself one day.

Most serious observers initially laughed off the rumors first floated last year about Biden thinking about 2016. Biden was too old, too much a product of the country’s political past and a human gaffe machine. But Biden’s strong showing at the Democratic National Convention illustrated just how well his rabble-rousing style appeals to his party activists. While most Americans may have been turned off by his contemptuous attitude and weird grinning during the vice presidential debate with Paul Ryan, that was exactly what the liberal base wanted. When you figure in the fact that Biden’s prime ministerial relations with Congress will allow him to solidify alliances and do favors for influential party members, it’s hard to dismiss the possibility that he actually stands a fair chance of being the Democratic nominee to succeed Obama.

Part of the plausibility of the Biden 2016 scenario lies in the fact that, at least at present, there aren’t many viable alternatives for Democrats. Hillary Clinton is an obvious choice but her recent health problems and the fallout from the Benghazi disaster make any assumptions about her inevitability seem less certain. Outside of her there are no real big league prospects for the Democrats. Though that may change (in 2005 no one believed the then-freshman senator from Illinois would be elected president), Biden is justified in not being afraid of any possible rival.

It remains to be seen whether Biden will be able to spend the next four years taking credit for administration legislative successes and dodging blame for the inevitable second term failures. Biden has, after all, been wrong on virtually every major foreign policy stand he has taken and his populist style grates on many. Biden’s propensity for mistakes and long-winded speechifying will also make him a perfect target for opponents. He could well talk himself out of the race long before he enters it.

Nevertheless, Biden bears watching in the coming weeks and months. Rather than needing to strike out on his own, the best thing Biden can do to strengthen his standing among Democrats is to be Barack Obama’s loyal soldier. Though Republicans may be salivating at the thought of having to face Biden in 2016 after being beaten by the far more popular Obama the last two cycles, the vice president’s growing importance has made his long-cherished dream of the presidency a bit less fantastic.

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Boehner’s Enemies

John Boehner isn’t resigning from his position as House speaker–despite dubious Internet rumors to the contrary–but there is clearly a campaign to try to push him out. Breitbart’s website, RedState, and a group called American Majority Action seem to be at the forefront.  

Boehner was already under attack from the right over last night’s fiscal cliff deal. It didn’t help that he punted on a Hurricane Sandy aid bill, sending cable-soundbite kings Chris Christie and Rep. Peter King into histrionic fits. Boehner likely calculated that the pork-filled Sandy aid bill would hurt him with conservatives after the fiscal cliff deal, so he sought a delay. But Breitbart’s website speculates that Boehner had more sinister motives:

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John Boehner isn’t resigning from his position as House speaker–despite dubious Internet rumors to the contrary–but there is clearly a campaign to try to push him out. Breitbart’s website, RedState, and a group called American Majority Action seem to be at the forefront.  

Boehner was already under attack from the right over last night’s fiscal cliff deal. It didn’t help that he punted on a Hurricane Sandy aid bill, sending cable-soundbite kings Chris Christie and Rep. Peter King into histrionic fits. Boehner likely calculated that the pork-filled Sandy aid bill would hurt him with conservatives after the fiscal cliff deal, so he sought a delay. But Breitbart’s website speculates that Boehner had more sinister motives:

Cantor wanted the bill passed before the new Congress starts on Thursday, too. And it looks like Boehner was going to go along with it and let the vote happen but canceled it all of a sudden out of bitterness after his top two deputies–Cantor and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy–voted against the “fiscal cliff” deal that passed late Tuesday. Boehner voted for the fiscal cliff deal, and Cantor’s and McCarthy’s move may mean they’ll challenge Boehner’s speakership.

Boehner spokesman Michael Steel downplayed the Speaker’s reversal on providing aid to Sandy victims quickly. “The speaker is committed to getting this bill passed this month,” Steel said. Aides to leadership have confirmed Boehner has killed any effort to provide Sandy victims aid until next Congress.

I don’t know if Eric Cantor is actively trying to unseat Boehner behind the scenes. But if he’s not, stories like the one above make it seem like he is–and that can’t be helpful for him. It’s true that he’s the one of the few members who would have a real shot at Boehner’s position, but Boehner will most likely prevail. If it looks like Cantor’s stabbing the speaker in the back–and then loses–that’s a problem.

As Mark Levin writes on Facebook ,“I’m told Cantor’s office is leaking all over Boehner today, hoping to replace him as speaker. As far as I am concerned, Boehner, Cantor, & McCarthy need to go. All 3 of them.”

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The Cliff Vote and the Ryan-Rubio Race

It did not escape the notice of political observers that some of the leading candidates for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination came down on opposite sides of the vote on the fiscal cliff deal. No one was surprised that an extreme libertarian like Rand Paul would be one of the eight no votes in the Senate on the pact. But the votes of Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Paul Ryan did raise some eyebrows, and could potentially impact the way conservative primary voters view the pair four years from now when Iowa and New Hampshire are again the center of the political universe.

Rubio’s decision to join Paul in opposition to the deal makes sense for those who remember that although he is a very mainstream figure today, just three years ago he was viewed in Washington as just another Tea Party insurgent determined to upset the plans of the establishment to make Charlie Crist the GOP candidate for a Florida Senate seat. However, the reaction to Paul Ryan’s decision to join House Speaker John Boehner in supporting the pact did create something of a stir. Ryan’s vote for a deal that he and most other Republicans despised might have been the responsible thing to do since the alternative was to let the taxes of all Americans go up. But in doing so he may have lowered his stock among conservative activists who preferred the futile gesture of protest that most House Republicans made when they joined Majority Leader Eric Cantor in voting against the bill. Though no one should be under the misapprehension that we can know what will determine the outcome of primaries that will be held so far in the future, there’s little doubt Ryan’s stand is going to be held against him by some segments of his party.

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It did not escape the notice of political observers that some of the leading candidates for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination came down on opposite sides of the vote on the fiscal cliff deal. No one was surprised that an extreme libertarian like Rand Paul would be one of the eight no votes in the Senate on the pact. But the votes of Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Paul Ryan did raise some eyebrows, and could potentially impact the way conservative primary voters view the pair four years from now when Iowa and New Hampshire are again the center of the political universe.

Rubio’s decision to join Paul in opposition to the deal makes sense for those who remember that although he is a very mainstream figure today, just three years ago he was viewed in Washington as just another Tea Party insurgent determined to upset the plans of the establishment to make Charlie Crist the GOP candidate for a Florida Senate seat. However, the reaction to Paul Ryan’s decision to join House Speaker John Boehner in supporting the pact did create something of a stir. Ryan’s vote for a deal that he and most other Republicans despised might have been the responsible thing to do since the alternative was to let the taxes of all Americans go up. But in doing so he may have lowered his stock among conservative activists who preferred the futile gesture of protest that most House Republicans made when they joined Majority Leader Eric Cantor in voting against the bill. Though no one should be under the misapprehension that we can know what will determine the outcome of primaries that will be held so far in the future, there’s little doubt Ryan’s stand is going to be held against him by some segments of his party.

Portraying someone who has been the leading congressional advocate of entitlement reforms as just another DC establishment tax and spender may be a stretch. But that’s exactly the line taken by former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough on his “Morning Joe” show today as he abused Ryan for his vote. While the rantings of an MSNBC host shouldn’t be confused for a scientific sample of conservative opinion, right-wing websites are already chiming in on his theme that Ryan’s votes for the prescription drug benefit add-on during the George W. Bush administration and his backing of the fiscal cliff deal mark him as part of the government spending problem rather than its solution.

The Ryan vote is an example of the difficulty of running for president while attempting to govern. It is easy for conservatives to agree with the stand of Rand and Rubio in opposing legislation that gave President Obama most of what he wanted while getting the GOP almost nothing in return on spending or entitlements. But had all House Republicans followed their lead, the bill would have been defeated, ensuring that all Americans would get a massive income tax hike in addition to the hit they will take from the rise in payroll deductions and the impact of ObamaCare on their pocketbooks.

Like the 2008 TARP vote that has been used to label some Republicans as sellouts, it’s likely that Ryan will never hear the end of this no matter how valiant his stands against Obama’s agenda in the coming months and years turn out to be. Though it is not a given that he or any of the candidates we currently assume will be the main choices in 2016 will actually run, it would be foolish to think this won’t be brought up in a future debate and have some impact on his prospects.

To be fair to Rubio, it would be wrong to paint his vote as a cynical pander to the GOP base since it is consistent with his past views on such inadequate compromises. Nevertheless, Rubio is giving us a clear indication that he is unlikely to cast any vote over the course of the next four years that can be portrayed as a betrayal of his Tea Party roots the way Ryan’s decision will be blasted. As a backbench member of the Senate minority, that’s easier for him than it would be for Ryan, who is chair of the House Budget Committee.

Four years is an eternity in politics and it may well be that when the GOP candidates are trudging through the snows in rural hamlets in Iowa and New Hampshire few will remember this week’s votes. A lot will happen between then and now to potentially alter the conservative base’s view of Ryan and Rubio. But right now it appears Rubio is staking out ground to the former veep candidate’s right. That can’t harm his chances of winning a future presidential nod.

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Obama and the “Moral High Ground”

In April 2008, during the Democratic primary season, Barack Obama criticized John McCain for seeming to favor economic policies of the Bush administration that McCain had once opposed. “Well, they may have stopped offending John McCain’s conscience somewhere along the road to the White House, but George Bush’s economic policies still offend my conscience, and they still offend yours,” Obama said.

The Bush tax cuts offended his conscience, and so did the Bush deficits. Well, they may have stopped offending Barack Obama’s conscience somewhere along the road to the White House, you might say, considering the fiscal cliff deal the Obama White House has agreed to. The reason conservatives enjoy pointing things like this out is not to play “gotcha” so much as to remind people why Obama was always so off-putting to non-liberals. To Obama, those who disagreed with him were cast as immoral. They weren’t simply political opponents of Obama’s; they were, to the current president, opponents of all that is good and righteous.

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In April 2008, during the Democratic primary season, Barack Obama criticized John McCain for seeming to favor economic policies of the Bush administration that McCain had once opposed. “Well, they may have stopped offending John McCain’s conscience somewhere along the road to the White House, but George Bush’s economic policies still offend my conscience, and they still offend yours,” Obama said.

The Bush tax cuts offended his conscience, and so did the Bush deficits. Well, they may have stopped offending Barack Obama’s conscience somewhere along the road to the White House, you might say, considering the fiscal cliff deal the Obama White House has agreed to. The reason conservatives enjoy pointing things like this out is not to play “gotcha” so much as to remind people why Obama was always so off-putting to non-liberals. To Obama, those who disagreed with him were cast as immoral. They weren’t simply political opponents of Obama’s; they were, to the current president, opponents of all that is good and righteous.

Obama’s “fiscal cliff” deal to extend the Bush tax cuts comes, ironically, the same week he quietly signed an extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act–another source of controversy during the Bush administration. Bush’s national security policies did not escape Obama’s moral judgment. In a 2007 speech, Obama said Bush “decided to take the low road” in its response to military threats: “We did not reaffirm our basic values, or secure our homeland. Instead, we got a color-coded politics of fear.”

The fight over FISA was a minor one in the grand scheme of things, but also a symbolic one. Obama staunchly opposed immunity to telecoms that had cooperated with the government–one Bush-era provision of the law. “I am proud to stand with Senator Dodd, Senator Feingold and a grassroots movement of Americans who are refusing to let President Bush put protections for special interests ahead of our security and our liberty. There is no reason why telephone companies should be given blanket immunity to cover violations of the rights of the American people,” Obama had said.

Pretty clear, right? That promise didn’t even make it through to the election.

Immediately upon taking office in 2009, Obama outlined exactly how he would take us from “the low road” to the “moral high ground,” and that included shuttering secret CIA prisons around the globe and ending long-term secret detentions. Upon signing that executive order, the moral preening was rewarded with applause. A new day had dawned. Yet as the Washington Post reported yesterday, Obama has relied on long-term secret detentions “without legal oversight” throughout his first term in office:

Defense attorneys and others familiar with the case, however, said the men were arrested in Djibouti, a close ally of Washington. The tiny African country hosts a major U.S. military base, Camp Lemonnier, that serves as a combat hub for drone flights and counterterrorism operations. Djibouti also has a decade-long history of cooperating with the United States on renditions….

The sequence described by the lawyers matches a pattern from other rendition cases in which U.S. intelligence agents have secretly interrogated suspects for months without legal oversight before handing over the prisoners to the FBI for prosecution.

Perhaps Obama just thinks the “moral high ground” is overrated. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he has only the best interests of the country in mind, and that he is not the morally bankrupt, power-hungry, fear-mongering political opportunist he would accuse others of being if they were to follow his path.

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The Boehner-Cantor Rift and the Speaker Election

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor broke with Speaker John Boehner on the fiscal cliff deal vote yesterday, fueling speculation that he may challenge Boehner in Thursday’s Speaker election. At the Guardian, Jim Antle writes

It’s rare for the top two members of the House leadership to split on an important vote. Bob Michel, the hapless leader of the House Republicans during a long period in the minority, and Newt Gingrich voted differently on the 1990 “read my lips” tax increase. They split again over the 1994 assault weapons ban.

Even less common is a House speaker and majority leader going their separate ways on big-ticket legislation. The last major example is when the Democratic-controlled House debate funding President George W Bush’s surge in Iraq. House speaker Nancy Pelosi allowed the measure to proceed to the floor and voted no. House majority leader Steny Hoyer voted yes.

House speakers typically don’t even vote at all unless it is necessary to break a tie. So it may have been a clarifying moment when speaker of the House John Boehner and House majority leader Eric Cantor parted ways on the deal that ended the long national nightmare known as the fiscal cliff. Boehner voted for the bipartisan agreement negotiated between Vice-President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell; Cantor breathed the final moments of life into the opposition.

As Antle notes, despite conservative frustration with Boehner, Cantor is the only one who could potentially rally enough members behind him to seize the gavel. And Breitbart reports that there may be growing support for it:

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House Majority Leader Eric Cantor broke with Speaker John Boehner on the fiscal cliff deal vote yesterday, fueling speculation that he may challenge Boehner in Thursday’s Speaker election. At the Guardian, Jim Antle writes

It’s rare for the top two members of the House leadership to split on an important vote. Bob Michel, the hapless leader of the House Republicans during a long period in the minority, and Newt Gingrich voted differently on the 1990 “read my lips” tax increase. They split again over the 1994 assault weapons ban.

Even less common is a House speaker and majority leader going their separate ways on big-ticket legislation. The last major example is when the Democratic-controlled House debate funding President George W Bush’s surge in Iraq. House speaker Nancy Pelosi allowed the measure to proceed to the floor and voted no. House majority leader Steny Hoyer voted yes.

House speakers typically don’t even vote at all unless it is necessary to break a tie. So it may have been a clarifying moment when speaker of the House John Boehner and House majority leader Eric Cantor parted ways on the deal that ended the long national nightmare known as the fiscal cliff. Boehner voted for the bipartisan agreement negotiated between Vice-President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell; Cantor breathed the final moments of life into the opposition.

As Antle notes, despite conservative frustration with Boehner, Cantor is the only one who could potentially rally enough members behind him to seize the gavel. And Breitbart reports that there may be growing support for it:

“At least 20 House Republican members have gotten together, discussed this and want to unseat Speaker Boehner–and are willing to do what it takes to do it,” [American Action Majority spokesperson Ron] Meyer said. “That’s more than enough to get the job done, but the one problem these guys face is they need a leader to coalesce behind.” 

Meyer said the conservatives have considered House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) to take the helm after Boehner is knocked out. His opposition from the right to the Senate fiscal cliff deal that Vice President Joe Biden cut with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is a sign Cantor may try for the job. 

AMA is hardly the only conservative entity aware of the rekindled effort afoot to unseat Boehner. Another conservative with inside knowledge of the effort told Breitbart News that the movement has “new focus and juice,” and if enough members go to Boehner telling him they won’t support his re-election, that Americans should “watch for him to resign gracefully.”

AMA has been one of Boehner’s most vocal critics, so it’s not clear how much of this is just wishful thinking and how much reflects an actual burgeoning revolt. For one, Cantor’s office has downplayed his rift with Boehner, saying he stands behind the current speaker. And many members might be concerned about shaking up House GOP leadership right before the debt ceiling debate. 

Then there’s the question of how much of this the Boehner opposition brought on itself. After all, the speaker’s Plan B deal that was killed by his internal critics was better in comparison to what ended up going through yesterday. Conservatives have legitimate complaints about the final deal, and legitimate grievances about the closed-door process of negotiations. But Boehner had to play the hand he was dealt, and unfortunately for Republicans it’s been stacked against them since the November election.

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A Bad Deal Beats a Calamitous Outcome

The deal to avoid going over the so-called fiscal cliff was a lousy one: tax rate increases during a weak economy, no spending reductions, nothing on entitlement reform. And yet if House Republicans had succeeded in derailing this deal, negotiated between Senator Mitch McConnell and Vice President Joe Biden, it would have been disastrous. 

It would have led to much higher tax increases on all Americans, even beyond the increase in payroll taxes that will now go into effect, and triggered decimating cuts in the defense department. And it would have done a great deal to advance the storyline that Republicans — at least House Republicans — are extremists enamored with nihilism.

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The deal to avoid going over the so-called fiscal cliff was a lousy one: tax rate increases during a weak economy, no spending reductions, nothing on entitlement reform. And yet if House Republicans had succeeded in derailing this deal, negotiated between Senator Mitch McConnell and Vice President Joe Biden, it would have been disastrous. 

It would have led to much higher tax increases on all Americans, even beyond the increase in payroll taxes that will now go into effect, and triggered decimating cuts in the defense department. And it would have done a great deal to advance the storyline that Republicans — at least House Republicans — are extremists enamored with nihilism.

I don’t believe that narrative for a moment. Most Republicans want to take meaningful steps to re-limit government, which is entirely admirable. But they faced a particularly bad set of circumstances, and it wasn’t at all clear to me what the game plan would have been if they had succeeded in blowing up the deal passed by an overwhelming margin in the Senate. 

To have amended the Senate deal with the most minor spending cuts–essentially pocket change, given the level of deficits and debt we’re dealing with–would have been fiscally meaningless. And if an amended deal had led to no deal at all–which is precisely what would have happened–it would have been calamitous for House Republicans. There is simply no way Republicans could extract a good, or even mediocre, deal from this situation. They had to hope they could minimize the damage, retreat to safer and better ground, and think through a strategy on how to more effectively wage future battles with the president. Republicans can also take some comfort in the fact that Democrats, after having spent a decade demagoguing the Bush tax cuts, made them permanent for 98 percent of Americans. And as the dust settles on this deal, it may dawn on Republicans that Democrats, who presumably were in a position of maximum strength, didn’t get nearly as much as they hoped for. (For more, see Yuval Levin’s excellent analysis here.)   

Congressional Republicans who wanted to amend the deal sent to them by the Senate may have been engaging in a primal scream of sorts. They are enormously (and understandably) frustrated at the president’s staggering indifference to our debt crisis and their inability to do anything about it. And because this deal is so bad in so many ways, they wanted to vote against it. But if more of them had voted the way Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Eric Cantor did, they would have badly damaged their party and their country.

I for one am glad that cooler and wiser head prevailed and that this bad deal didn’t give way to a much worse outcome. Sometimes that’s the best you can hope for in the aftermath of a damaging election loss.

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Cliff Win May Be Obama’s Last

President Obama got the best of both worlds with the passage of the deal to prevent the country from going over the fiscal cliff. He got the massive tax hike on wealthier Americans that he wanted and paid for it with no spending cuts. Though he acted throughout the crisis as if he might prefer the political advantage that he would gain by a Republican refusal to pass these measures, the avoidance of the cliff prevents the economy from going into a tailspin that would blight his second term. And he accomplished all this while making Republicans looking bad with the passage of the compromise being accomplished despite overwhelming opposition from the House majority caucus.

But the president’s claim that he wouldn’t have another debate with Republicans about taxes and spending in the future was a hollow challenge. House Speaker John Boehner and other Republicans who voted for the unsatisfactory package and ensured its passage knew that the alternative was a devastating tax hike for all Americans that would harm the economy and hurt their party for years to come. Though liberals have often claimed that it was the GOP and its Tea Party faction that was holding the nation hostage, this time it was the Democrats who were the ones with a gun to the heads of the nation. It was either vote for a tax increase for some and no spending cuts or see middle class America pay a terrible price. These circumstances won’t apply in the coming months when the debt ceiling and other budgetary measures must be passed. Though the cliff bill was a win for the president, he isn’t likely to have one like this again.

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President Obama got the best of both worlds with the passage of the deal to prevent the country from going over the fiscal cliff. He got the massive tax hike on wealthier Americans that he wanted and paid for it with no spending cuts. Though he acted throughout the crisis as if he might prefer the political advantage that he would gain by a Republican refusal to pass these measures, the avoidance of the cliff prevents the economy from going into a tailspin that would blight his second term. And he accomplished all this while making Republicans looking bad with the passage of the compromise being accomplished despite overwhelming opposition from the House majority caucus.

But the president’s claim that he wouldn’t have another debate with Republicans about taxes and spending in the future was a hollow challenge. House Speaker John Boehner and other Republicans who voted for the unsatisfactory package and ensured its passage knew that the alternative was a devastating tax hike for all Americans that would harm the economy and hurt their party for years to come. Though liberals have often claimed that it was the GOP and its Tea Party faction that was holding the nation hostage, this time it was the Democrats who were the ones with a gun to the heads of the nation. It was either vote for a tax increase for some and no spending cuts or see middle class America pay a terrible price. These circumstances won’t apply in the coming months when the debt ceiling and other budgetary measures must be passed. Though the cliff bill was a win for the president, he isn’t likely to have one like this again.

Before leaving the White House to continue his Hawaii vacation, the president spoke on Tuesday night as if the House vote settled for all time the question of whether he would have to deal with Republican objections to his decidedly unbalanced approach to balancing the budget. 

Far from silencing the Republicans, this debate will ensure that the House majority will be even more determined in the future to oppose the tax increases that the president has said he will push for in the future. Nor will they allow him to get anything passed without addressing the one thing that he has refused to contemplate in any serious manner: entitlement reform. He also won’t be able to count on dividing the GOP caucus as he did this time, as Speaker Boehner’s desire to do the right thing by the country estranged him from not only the Tea Partiers but much of his own leadership team. If there’s anything Obama should expect it is that this is the last time Boehner will allow House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to outflank him with most Republicans siding with him against the speaker.

That means this is also probably the last time there will be enough votes to raise taxes on anybody, especially with nothing being done about the spending problem that is at the heart of the nation’s fiscal ills.

President Obama should enjoy his victory on his plane ride to his island holiday. No amount of presidential bluster or bravado will be enough to get him another like it over the course of the coming years.

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GOP Plays Into Obama’s Hands on Cliff

Those who were wondering at the truculent tone exhibited by President Obama yesterday afternoon during remarks delivered at a White House event got their answer today. Negotiations between Vice President Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had already produced a deal by the time the president spoke. That should have meant at least a temporary cessation of partisan warfare, but Obama was having none of it. As I wrote yesterday, though the deal was very much on his terms–including a tax increase on those making $400,000 or more a year and had nothing in it about the spending cuts or entitlement reform that is necessary to fix the country’s budget problems–the president was not in a conciliatory mood. He made it clear that subsequent negotiations about the debt ceiling and the budget would focus on even more tax increases rather than address the nation’s spending problem. He spoke contemptuously of the Republican position. Rather than uniting the nation just at the moment when it appeared a bipartisan compromise (albeit one that was far closer to his demands than anything proposed by the GOP) had been achieved, he seemed intent on goading House Republicans into rejecting the deal.

One day later, it looks like he got his wish. Though the Tea Partiers in the GOP caucus might have opposed the deal anyway, as did presidential hopefuls Rand Paul and Marco Rubio in the Senate, Obama’s remarks had to have pushed many Republicans over the edge into opposition. Though the alternative to passing the deal, which would entail sending the country over the fiscal cliff and generate ruinous tax increases for all Americans, is unthinkable, it is hard to blame House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and other Republicans for thinking they are dealing with a negotiating partner in the president who is only interested in raising taxes and not in dealing with the nation’s problems. Though it can be argued that the GOP will be in a stronger position to fight the Democrats on entitlement reforms once taxes on the wealthy have already been raised, Cantor and his colleagues understand that Obama will not negotiate in good faith two months later on the debt ceiling any more than he has this time. That’s exactly the message the president wanted to send, and his intended audience responded just as he wished. Read More

Those who were wondering at the truculent tone exhibited by President Obama yesterday afternoon during remarks delivered at a White House event got their answer today. Negotiations between Vice President Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had already produced a deal by the time the president spoke. That should have meant at least a temporary cessation of partisan warfare, but Obama was having none of it. As I wrote yesterday, though the deal was very much on his terms–including a tax increase on those making $400,000 or more a year and had nothing in it about the spending cuts or entitlement reform that is necessary to fix the country’s budget problems–the president was not in a conciliatory mood. He made it clear that subsequent negotiations about the debt ceiling and the budget would focus on even more tax increases rather than address the nation’s spending problem. He spoke contemptuously of the Republican position. Rather than uniting the nation just at the moment when it appeared a bipartisan compromise (albeit one that was far closer to his demands than anything proposed by the GOP) had been achieved, he seemed intent on goading House Republicans into rejecting the deal.

One day later, it looks like he got his wish. Though the Tea Partiers in the GOP caucus might have opposed the deal anyway, as did presidential hopefuls Rand Paul and Marco Rubio in the Senate, Obama’s remarks had to have pushed many Republicans over the edge into opposition. Though the alternative to passing the deal, which would entail sending the country over the fiscal cliff and generate ruinous tax increases for all Americans, is unthinkable, it is hard to blame House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and other Republicans for thinking they are dealing with a negotiating partner in the president who is only interested in raising taxes and not in dealing with the nation’s problems. Though it can be argued that the GOP will be in a stronger position to fight the Democrats on entitlement reforms once taxes on the wealthy have already been raised, Cantor and his colleagues understand that Obama will not negotiate in good faith two months later on the debt ceiling any more than he has this time. That’s exactly the message the president wanted to send, and his intended audience responded just as he wished.

Throughout the debt ceiling talks last year and the recent discussions about the budget, the president has acted as he if wanted to avoid a deal with the GOP. The lip service he paid to the notion of compromise was always overshadowed by incendiary class warfare rhetoric that was aimed at his liberal base. Sending the nation over the cliff also achieves his objectives: raising taxes to create more revenue for the government to spend and forcing cuts in defense that he favors anyway.

That’s why many Republicans have suspected all along that the president’s refusal to get off his high horse and actually negotiate about entitlement reform was intended to blow up any hopes of an accord. At every stage of the talks when logic would have called for the White House to strike a moderate tone about the budget, Obama has instead done his best to incite the GOP caucus to stand their ground on taxes and spending. In doing so yesterday he merely confirmed the belief held by many conservatives that any concessions on their part would be merely pocketed by the Democrats before being asked for more.

Republicans will pay a high price for taking the president’s bait and voting the compromise down in the House or amending it to the point that it will be rejected by the Democrat-controlled Senate. Though it may be unfair for Americans to blame the GOP more than a president who is every bit the ideologue that his Tea Party foes are, there is little doubt that a no vote from the House will result in the Republicans being blamed for higher taxes on the middle class. As much as the deal is a bad one, allowing those taxes to rise is bad politics as well as bad policy. Most of all, in doing so, House Republicans are playing right into the president’s hands. 

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The “Fiscal Cliff” Deal and Defense

The Senate’s early-morning budget deal kicks the can down the road–not very far down the road–for about two months. For those of us who focus on defense policy, the good news is that the Senate at least agreed to address the looming sequester, something that looked unlikely as recently as a few days ago.

According to this report in the Washington Post, “The last last piece of the puzzle to fall into place was the sequester, which would be delayed until early March under an agreement to raise $12 billion in new tax revenue and $12 billion in fresh savings from the Pentagon and domestic programs.” Presumably that means that the cost of turning off the sequester for two months is about $6 billion in extra defense cuts. That’s much better than $50 billion in cuts, which would have hit if sequestration had occurred, but given how much the Defense Department has been cut already (remember that the budget deal of 2011 slashes some $500 billion over 10 years), while entitlement spending (the main driver of our debt) has not been cut at all, there is scant justification for cuts of any size. At least on the merits.

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The Senate’s early-morning budget deal kicks the can down the road–not very far down the road–for about two months. For those of us who focus on defense policy, the good news is that the Senate at least agreed to address the looming sequester, something that looked unlikely as recently as a few days ago.

According to this report in the Washington Post, “The last last piece of the puzzle to fall into place was the sequester, which would be delayed until early March under an agreement to raise $12 billion in new tax revenue and $12 billion in fresh savings from the Pentagon and domestic programs.” Presumably that means that the cost of turning off the sequester for two months is about $6 billion in extra defense cuts. That’s much better than $50 billion in cuts, which would have hit if sequestration had occurred, but given how much the Defense Department has been cut already (remember that the budget deal of 2011 slashes some $500 billion over 10 years), while entitlement spending (the main driver of our debt) has not been cut at all, there is scant justification for cuts of any size. At least on the merits.

As a matter of political necessity, there is little doubt that, whatever comes, the armed services will suffer more pain–seeing their resources cut while their missions continue to multiply. The only question is how much pain? Assuming the kick-the-can compromise passes the House, that question will be answered in March. Or not. There is actually little reason to think that lawmakers will suddenly be able to bridge their differences in two months. So yet another temporary, 11th-hour fix may be ginned up. Is this any way, I wonder (in common with most Americans), to run a superpower?

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Obama Sets Stage for Conflict

Just as it looked like a fiscal cliff deal was coming together, President Obama gave a partisan, sarcastic speech this afternoon that seemed intended to set back the entire process. As Jonathan wrote, Republicans have good reason to think the president’s goal is to go over the cliff. But they also suspect the White House is preparing to push for further tax increases, in addition to the hikes on individuals making over $400,000 (and families making over $450,000) a year.

“What they’re telegraphing to me is that when Republicans ask for spending cuts, [Democrats are] gonna say ‘You’re not getting those unless we get more tax hikes’,” said one Republican Senate aide after the speech.

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Just as it looked like a fiscal cliff deal was coming together, President Obama gave a partisan, sarcastic speech this afternoon that seemed intended to set back the entire process. As Jonathan wrote, Republicans have good reason to think the president’s goal is to go over the cliff. But they also suspect the White House is preparing to push for further tax increases, in addition to the hikes on individuals making over $400,000 (and families making over $450,000) a year.

“What they’re telegraphing to me is that when Republicans ask for spending cuts, [Democrats are] gonna say ‘You’re not getting those unless we get more tax hikes’,” said one Republican Senate aide after the speech.

According to Senate GOP sources, there is no more debate on the deal to raise taxes on those making over $400,000, which is necessary to avert automatic across-the-board expiration of the Bush tax cuts. But Republican leadership is balking at the White House demand to delay sequestration without corresponding, targeted spending cuts.

“Not only was [Obama’s speech] unhelpful and antagonistic (as pretty much every journalist on Twitter and even Ezra Klein recognized), the tax part of negotiations is done,” another Republican aide said in an email. “There’s already an agreement there. The sticking point is Democrats trying to turn off the sequester cuts. Republicans aren’t going to agree to simply set spending cuts aside.” 

One big concern is that the White House will demand additional tax increases down the road, in return for spending cuts. Some also say the current tax deal will impact more Americans than initially thought. According to a Senate Republican source, the tax increase on individuals/families making over $400,000/$450,000 a year is not enough to reach the $600 billion in tax revenue included in the potential deal, even if you include hikes on capital gains, dividends, and phased-out personal exemptions and itemized deductions. In other words, those making well under $400,000–and as low as $250,000 a year–could also end up paying higher taxes under the deal.

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Obama’s Crisis Demagoguery

There may be a last-minute compromise reached today in the negotiations over the fiscal cliff, but not if President Obama has anything to say about it. Even as Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell were believed to have led the effort to have the structure of a deal in place for the two houses of Congress to vote on later today, the president emerged to make a statement that seemed geared to scuttling the negotiations.

In a campaign-style event, the president spoke of a possible accord between the two parties that would avert the immediate effects of the fiscal cliff being reached. But the bulk of his remarks were devoted to goading the Republicans into backing away from any deal. Not only did he gratuitously insult the GOP about their stands on the budget to the great amusement of the hand-picked audience of supporters, he also made it clear that the tax increases in any compromise would just be the start of what he hoped to accomplish. Even worse, he implied that spending cuts, especially the entitlement reform that is necessary for any long-term solution to the nation’s problems, are not really on the table as far as he is concerned.

Given the tone of his comments and the timing, Republicans should be forgiven for suspecting that his real purpose was to send the country over the cliff in the belief that only the GOP would be blamed for the disaster.

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There may be a last-minute compromise reached today in the negotiations over the fiscal cliff, but not if President Obama has anything to say about it. Even as Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell were believed to have led the effort to have the structure of a deal in place for the two houses of Congress to vote on later today, the president emerged to make a statement that seemed geared to scuttling the negotiations.

In a campaign-style event, the president spoke of a possible accord between the two parties that would avert the immediate effects of the fiscal cliff being reached. But the bulk of his remarks were devoted to goading the Republicans into backing away from any deal. Not only did he gratuitously insult the GOP about their stands on the budget to the great amusement of the hand-picked audience of supporters, he also made it clear that the tax increases in any compromise would just be the start of what he hoped to accomplish. Even worse, he implied that spending cuts, especially the entitlement reform that is necessary for any long-term solution to the nation’s problems, are not really on the table as far as he is concerned.

Given the tone of his comments and the timing, Republicans should be forgiven for suspecting that his real purpose was to send the country over the cliff in the belief that only the GOP would be blamed for the disaster.

The president obviously thinks the very last moment before a fiscal catastrophe that would raise taxes on all Americans and impose devastating cuts in defense is a good time to mock the idea of spending cuts and to threaten further taxes. The only possible motivation for this is to convince suspicious Republicans that any give in their position will not be met even part of the way by the Democrats. In other words, if even now the president is unprepared to contemplate entitlement reform, then it is difficult to make the argument that they should do the responsible thing and compromise.

Through last year’s debt ceiling crisis as well as the fiscal cliff talks, the president has always behaved as if he thought he had nothing to lose by engaging in class warfare demagoguery. Since going over the cliff means raising more taxes and feeding the government beast that he seems uninterested in restraining as well as cutting defense spending, why shouldn’t he try to incite the GOP to refuse to agree to a deal?

But for him to behave in this manner on the very eve of the crisis while leaders of both parties are struggling to construct a makeshift measure that will get the nation past midnight is telling.

This is not just the confident manner of a re-elected president, but the contempt of a man who believes he doesn’t have to listen to anyone but himself. This may presage future fights over taxes in which he thinks he will continue to have the whip hand over the GOP. But the law of unintended consequences may eventually catch up with him. Though his soak-the-rich rhetoric resonates with many Americans, they also understand that entitlement reform is in the best interests of the nation and that raising taxes on millionaires won’t balance the budget. Few outside the hard left really believe, as Obama seemed to say today, that America only has a tax problem, not a spending problem.

If in the coming months and years these irresponsible tactics catch up with the president, we may look back on his behavior today and see it as the turning point in the debate. The Greeks had a word for the kind of behavior President Obama demonstrated today: hubris. His second term may well be blighted by it.

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Why Both Parties Failed

It almost goes without saying that even if a deal is somehow reached today that would prevent a massive tax increase and defense cuts, the disgust of the public at the fiscal cliff hijinks that have gone on in Washington the last few weeks will outweigh the relief they feel. If the last-second talks between Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell succeed in crafting a short-term compromise that enough Democrats and Republicans can live with, the country will be spared the disaster that would ensue should the scheduled across-the-board tax increases and devastating sequestration of funds for national defense be implemented. But as much as both sides have spent more time casting aspersions at each other’s motives than negotiating in good faith, there needs to be a full accounting of why this happened in the way that it did.

To say that both Republicans and Democrats have failed in this episode is stating the obvious. But each failed in different ways and an analysis of their shortcomings tells us a lot about the direction in which the country is heading.

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It almost goes without saying that even if a deal is somehow reached today that would prevent a massive tax increase and defense cuts, the disgust of the public at the fiscal cliff hijinks that have gone on in Washington the last few weeks will outweigh the relief they feel. If the last-second talks between Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell succeed in crafting a short-term compromise that enough Democrats and Republicans can live with, the country will be spared the disaster that would ensue should the scheduled across-the-board tax increases and devastating sequestration of funds for national defense be implemented. But as much as both sides have spent more time casting aspersions at each other’s motives than negotiating in good faith, there needs to be a full accounting of why this happened in the way that it did.

To say that both Republicans and Democrats have failed in this episode is stating the obvious. But each failed in different ways and an analysis of their shortcomings tells us a lot about the direction in which the country is heading.

The Republicans failed because a critical mass of the House GOP caucus believed their mandate to stop Washington’s out-of-control spending and taxing outweighed their responsibility to keep the government running properly. The Tea Partiers were right that the country has a spending problem rather than one based in taxes that were too low, and their desire to reform the entitlements that are sinking the nation in debt brought a note of sanity to the irrational nature of the way Congress usually does business. But the idea they were empowered to stand in the way of any compromise on the debt ceiling and now the fiscal cliff was just as foolish as the refusal of the other side to address the root cause of the crisis.

After their smashing victory in the 2010 midterms, conservatives were right to say they were elected to throw a monkey wrench into the government machine even if the Senate and the White House were still controlled by the Democrats. But after the people voted to keep government divided last month, there was an obligation on the part of even the most hard-core conservatives to compromise in order to keep the government afloat. They may have been faced with a negotiating partner in the president who was working to prevent a deal since he believes he benefits politically from the implementation of the fiscal cliff taxes and cuts. Yet it would be dishonest to absolve the GOP caucus from blame here, since they were unable to pass House Speaker John Boehner’s Plan B compromise because many of them simply would not sign onto any tax increases of any kind.

Being right about policy does not excuse a political party from the need to keep the government functioning. In this case, that means the reforming zeal of many conservatives that is to be praised in principle prevented them from doing what needed to be done in practice to prevent today’s impending catastrophe. Though the public is wrong to blame Republicans more than Democrats for this mess, it isn’t wrong to see the GOP has having potentially sacrificed the well-being of the citizens for the sake of political purity.

As it turns out, the Democrats are guilty of almost the exact opposite sins.

Over the last year and a half, the president and his party correctly gauged the political effects of any discussion about entitlement reform. They knew doing anything to cut back on such spending would be unpopular even if many of them understood it was necessary. But rather than deal in good faith with the Republicans for a deal that would address the country’s long-term peril rather than merely a momentary shortfall, they spent this time engaging in demagoguery about the wealthy and their opponents. That was smart politics but bad public policy.

The tax increases they have been demanding will do little to fix the deficit. Indeed, they may prove entirely counterproductive since their soak-the-rich scheme will probably diminish the investments needed to produce robust growth instead of the anemic recovery we have been experiencing. Yet the only fact Democrats seemed capable of grasping was the one that told them that the public was dubious about the Republicans’ reform plans and that such ideas were unpopular.

That has left us with one party with sound economic principles but which lacked the willingness to compromise for the sake of the public good, and another with sound political instincts but a cynical view about policy that makes problem solving impossible. The Democrats’ intransigent cynicism is far more disreputable than the Republicans disregard for political reality, but put the two together and you get what we are currently seeing: a perfect storm of government dysfunction. If the long-term fiscal crisis is to be addressed it will require both parties to sober up and address their shortcomings.

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