Commentary Magazine


Topic: John Boehner

The Difference Between a Concession and a Confession

One of the arguments some intelligent conservatives are making is that if Republicans agree to increase rates on the top earners in America, it will do irreparable damage to the GOP. The basic case goes like this:

If Obama succeeds and ends up getting a confession from Republicans that tax cuts are the problem, tax cuts are the cause, what happens to the next Republican who campaigns on tax cuts? Not going to have a prayer.

Now it may well be that raising tax rates will do significant damage to the Republican Party. It may be substantively unwise. And I’m certainly sympathetic to Republicans not wanting to play a role in something they think is bad policy.

But here’s where I think this analysis is wrong.

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One of the arguments some intelligent conservatives are making is that if Republicans agree to increase rates on the top earners in America, it will do irreparable damage to the GOP. The basic case goes like this:

If Obama succeeds and ends up getting a confession from Republicans that tax cuts are the problem, tax cuts are the cause, what happens to the next Republican who campaigns on tax cuts? Not going to have a prayer.

Now it may well be that raising tax rates will do significant damage to the Republican Party. It may be substantively unwise. And I’m certainly sympathetic to Republicans not wanting to play a role in something they think is bad policy.

But here’s where I think this analysis is wrong.

If Republicans agreed to raise the rates on the top income earners in America, it would not be a “confession” that tax cuts are the problem. It would be a concession–one done in order to (a) keep something worse from happening (e.g., higher taxes on everyone, not just the top 2 percent of income earners; and/or the economic damage caused by going over the fiscal cliff) or (b) extracting something better in return (for example, entitlement reforms).

Whether the concession is worthwhile depends on the details of a deal. But conservatives should bear in mind that even a politician as principled as Ronald Reagan agreed to tax increases as part of broader deals. Indeed, Reagan agreed to what at the time was the largest tax increase in American history (the TEFRA tax).

It’s true that Reagan came to regret that decision. But the reason is that he never got the spending cuts he asked for in exchange for the tax increase he reluctantly agreed to. If he had, Reagan would have defended his decision on the grounds that the tax increases, which as a general matter he strongly opposed, were worth what he was able to get in return (spending cuts). And even though Reagan had agreed to tax increases in 1982, he and his party were still able to champion tax cuts in 1984. 

My guess is at the end of the day, Speaker Boehner will (wisely) not agree to raise the top rates, given how obstinate and unreasonable President Obama has shown himself to be. But even if Boehner does agree to an increase in the top rates, it will be a concession, not a confession.

Ronald Reagan agreed to tax increases and in the process didn’t ruin the GOP brand, and neither would John Boehner. 

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Gallup: Americans Want Fiscal Cliff Compromise

The latest Gallup poll has two interesting, and seemingly contradictory, findings:

President Barack Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner met at the White House on Sunday, but there has yet been no announcement of a negotiated agreement to avoid the mandated sequestration of government funds for defense and other federal spending, and the increase in tax rates for most taxpayers.

Seventy-three percent of Democrats want their leaders to compromise, little changed from 71% last week. But Republicans and independents express more widespread interest in compromise than they did last week — with Republicans moving from 55% to 67% in favor of compromise, while independents moved from 61% to 70%.

So Americans seem to want compromise — in theory. In reality, President Obama is still getting much higher approval ratings than Republican leaders in congress in the same Gallup poll (48 percent compared to 26 percent), even though he has been the party most unwilling to compromise. 

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The latest Gallup poll has two interesting, and seemingly contradictory, findings:

President Barack Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner met at the White House on Sunday, but there has yet been no announcement of a negotiated agreement to avoid the mandated sequestration of government funds for defense and other federal spending, and the increase in tax rates for most taxpayers.

Seventy-three percent of Democrats want their leaders to compromise, little changed from 71% last week. But Republicans and independents express more widespread interest in compromise than they did last week — with Republicans moving from 55% to 67% in favor of compromise, while independents moved from 61% to 70%.

So Americans seem to want compromise — in theory. In reality, President Obama is still getting much higher approval ratings than Republican leaders in congress in the same Gallup poll (48 percent compared to 26 percent), even though he has been the party most unwilling to compromise. 

It shows you what the GOP is up against here. Even though House Republican leadership has been open to concessions on tax revenue, it still can’t shake the “obstructionist” label. And even though President Obama has refused to take any step toward the GOP position, he’s still viewed as more willing to compromise. Republicans are dealing with more than just a political problem — they’re dealing with a deep-seated image problem, created largely by the media. Before they can persuade the public that they’re right about taxes, they’re going to have to tackle their public image issues.

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WH Running Out Clock on Fiscal Cliff Negotiations?

Because Republicans are more likely to be blamed for any fiscal cliff fallout, the closer they get to the deadline the more pressure they’ll be under to make concessions. Which is why the White House is slow-walking negotiations, according to John Boehner:

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) accused the White House Friday of trying to “slow-walk” the “fiscal cliff” negotiations.

Boehner said there was “no progress” in the talks just three weeks before tax hikes and spending cuts are set to kick in, and expressed frustration that President Obama hasn’t made a counter-offer to the GOP’s proposal of $800 billion in new tax revenue as part of a $2.2 trillion deficit-reduction plan. 

“This isn’t a progress report, because there’s no progress to report,” Boehner said in a brief press conference at the Capitol. 

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Because Republicans are more likely to be blamed for any fiscal cliff fallout, the closer they get to the deadline the more pressure they’ll be under to make concessions. Which is why the White House is slow-walking negotiations, according to John Boehner:

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) accused the White House Friday of trying to “slow-walk” the “fiscal cliff” negotiations.

Boehner said there was “no progress” in the talks just three weeks before tax hikes and spending cuts are set to kick in, and expressed frustration that President Obama hasn’t made a counter-offer to the GOP’s proposal of $800 billion in new tax revenue as part of a $2.2 trillion deficit-reduction plan. 

“This isn’t a progress report, because there’s no progress to report,” Boehner said in a brief press conference at the Capitol. 

The White House’s refusal to negotiate on tax rates has little to do with economic concerns — ending tax cuts for top earners would make barely a dent in the deficit. As Charles Krauthammer writes, it’s all part of Obama’s longer political game:

Such nonsense abounds because Obama’s objective in these negotiations is not economic but political: not to solve the debt crisis but to fracture the Republican majority in the House. Get Boehner to cave, pass the tax hike with Democratic votes provided by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and let the Republican civil war begin.

It doesn’t even matter whether Boehner gets deposed as speaker. Either way, the Republican House would be neutered, giving Obama a free hand to dominate Washington and fashion the entitlement state of his liking.

Democrats have a tough road to taking back the House in 2014. But if Republican leadership caves on tax hikes, conservative members will revolt, and incumbents up for reelection may be faced with a primary backlash. Obviously that could make it easier for Democrats to compete for the seats.

But if Republicans don’t cave, and go off the cliff, they’ll get blamed for the economic fallout. Most Democrats seem confident the GOP won’t let this happen, and will be willing to make serious concessions to avoid it. Krauthammer suggests Republicans call that bluff:

What should Republicans do? Stop giving stuff away. If Obama remains intransigent, let him be the one to take us over the cliff. And then let the new House, which is sworn in weeks before the president, immediately introduce and pass a full across-the-board restoration of the George W. Bush tax cuts.

Obama will counter with the usual all-but-the-rich tax cut — as the markets gyrate and the economy begins to wobble under his feet.

Result? We’re back to square one, but with a more level playing field. The risk to Obama will be rising and the debt ceiling will be looming. Most important of all, however, Republicans will still be in possession of their unity, their self-respect — and their trousers.

The White House will still try to blame the GOP for the economic consequences. But plenty of Democrats are already on the record arguing that going off the fiscal cliff isn’t the end of the world. If Republicans can somehow pull a better deal out of it, that could be the best of a lot of bad options.

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Jim DeMint and the Heritage Identity

John reflected earlier on the possibility that as the next president of the Heritage Foundation, Jim DeMint might “stress the institution’s role in opposition, which is his stock in trade as a senator, and to downgrade its policy role.” Heritage’s decision to tap DeMint is less a sign that the pathbreaking think tank is setting off in a new direction than a sign it is pleased with the direction it has been taking the last couple of years.

In recent years, and especially over the last several months, Heritage has supplemented its traditional role as a major research institution by getting more involved in day-to-day political battles on Capitol Hill. Heritage Action for America was founded in 2010 by the Heritage Foundation’s board, and serves as a vehicle for Heritage to advance its policy message in a more directly political manner. Heritage, as a 501(c)(3), is unable to participate in direct lobbying; Heritage Action, a 501(c)(4), has fewer legal limitations.

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John reflected earlier on the possibility that as the next president of the Heritage Foundation, Jim DeMint might “stress the institution’s role in opposition, which is his stock in trade as a senator, and to downgrade its policy role.” Heritage’s decision to tap DeMint is less a sign that the pathbreaking think tank is setting off in a new direction than a sign it is pleased with the direction it has been taking the last couple of years.

In recent years, and especially over the last several months, Heritage has supplemented its traditional role as a major research institution by getting more involved in day-to-day political battles on Capitol Hill. Heritage Action for America was founded in 2010 by the Heritage Foundation’s board, and serves as a vehicle for Heritage to advance its policy message in a more directly political manner. Heritage, as a 501(c)(3), is unable to participate in direct lobbying; Heritage Action, a 501(c)(4), has fewer legal limitations.

There is a great deal of overlap between Heritage and Heritage Action, both in terms of staff (eight of its 14 D.C. staffers are Heritage alumni, including its CEO and COO) and messaging. Heritage Action’s offices are actually within Heritage’s main office on Massachusetts Avenue and there is frequent staff interaction between the two (full disclosure: I’m a Heritage Foundation alumna). Heritage Action has become increasingly vocal over the past two years, calling out congressional leaders seen as insufficiently opposed to the legislative agenda of the Obama White House and congressional Democrats. Heritage Action produces a scorecard to rate members of Congress on their voting records. While they do not endorse candidates, there has been an increasing amount of coordination between Heritage Action and the more conservative members of Congress in an attempt to promote legislation.

In the current fiscal cliff debate, the Heritage Foundation and Jim DeMint took a joint stand against House Speaker John Boehner’s counteroffer. In retrospect, the coordination just two days ago between Heritage and DeMint on Boehner could indicate just how much a DeMint-run Heritage Foundation will participate in day-to-day D.C. politics. RedState’s Erick Erickson has already alluded to the fact that Heritage Action is expected to take an even larger role under a DeMint-run Heritage Foundation.

DeMint will be retiring from the Senate in order to assume his role at Heritage, four years earlier than previously announced. A major component of outgoing president Ed Feulner’s job–fundraising–was going to be a difficult challenge for almost any successor, as Heritage’s 700,000 active “members” (donors who have contributed in the last 24 months) are accustomed to seeing Feulner’s signature on their fundraising appeals. DeMint, an expert fundraiser for the Senate Conservatives Fund, is no fundraising lightweight, which may have contributed to his appeal as a successor to Feulner. While Heritage will most likely be able to maintain its membership base after a DeMint succession, DeMint’s strategy for balancing politics and policy will be under the microscope from day one.

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Conservative Civil War Brewing over Fiscal Cliff

In an attempt to rein in opposition to a potential compromise with Democrats , Speaker John Boehner is eliminating potential roadblocks on some key House committees. Yesterday two congressmen, Tim Huelskamp of Kansas and Justin Amash of Michigan, were removed from the agriculture and budget committees, respectively. Today both men spoke with the press and at the Heritage Foundation’s Blogger’s Briefing to discuss their removal. At Heritage Huelskamp told the crowd,

As has often been said, no good deed goes unpunished… We were not notified about what might occur. It confirms in my mind the deepest suspicions that most Americans [have] about Washington D.C. It’s petty, vindictive, and if you have any conservative principles you will be punished for articulating them. For the freshman class of two years ago we were only asked three things. You have to first help the Republican team in terms of fundraising. Frankly, I have done that. I think the other folks who have been punished have done that as well. In exchange for that, in exchange for notifying the leadership how you would vote, you will be able to vote your conscience and your district. I have done exactly that and so have most of my colleagues. It just so happens I have a conservative conscience and a conservative district. They are very thrilled with my votes and will confirm their deepest suspicions that it’s not about principles, it’s about blind obedience. 

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In an attempt to rein in opposition to a potential compromise with Democrats , Speaker John Boehner is eliminating potential roadblocks on some key House committees. Yesterday two congressmen, Tim Huelskamp of Kansas and Justin Amash of Michigan, were removed from the agriculture and budget committees, respectively. Today both men spoke with the press and at the Heritage Foundation’s Blogger’s Briefing to discuss their removal. At Heritage Huelskamp told the crowd,

As has often been said, no good deed goes unpunished… We were not notified about what might occur. It confirms in my mind the deepest suspicions that most Americans [have] about Washington D.C. It’s petty, vindictive, and if you have any conservative principles you will be punished for articulating them. For the freshman class of two years ago we were only asked three things. You have to first help the Republican team in terms of fundraising. Frankly, I have done that. I think the other folks who have been punished have done that as well. In exchange for that, in exchange for notifying the leadership how you would vote, you will be able to vote your conscience and your district. I have done exactly that and so have most of my colleagues. It just so happens I have a conservative conscience and a conservative district. They are very thrilled with my votes and will confirm their deepest suspicions that it’s not about principles, it’s about blind obedience. 

Conservative Senator Jim DeMint and the Heritage Foundation released a strong statement against the Boehner counteroffer. Roll Call reports,

“Speaker Boehner’s $800 billion tax hike will destroy American jobs and allow politicians in Washington to spend even more, while not reducing our $16 trillion debt by a single penny,” the South Carolina Republican said in a Tuesday release. “This isn’t rocket science. Everyone knows that when you take money out of the economy, it destroys jobs, and everyone knows that when you give politicians more money, they spend it. This is why Republicans must oppose tax increases and insist on real spending reductions that shrink the size of government and allow Americans to keep more of their hard-earned money.”

DeMint’s reaction is not the only conservative stone thrown. Hours after Boehner released the counteroffer, The Heritage Foundation declared it “a dud.”

In another piece, Roll Call described why the leadership decided to shake up the committee assignments:

According to a GOP aide familiar with the situation, Schweikert was told that he was ousted in part because his “votes were not in lockstep with leadership.”

All of the lawmakers, apart from Jones, were rebellious right-wingers. Huelskamp and Amash both voted against the budget proposed by Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin in committee and on the floor, saying it did not cut spending fast enough. They also voted against the current continuing resolution that is funding the government through the end of March.

How much leverage do House Republicans have over Democrats in the looming fiscal cliff standoff? As Alana mentioned earlier, if a deal isn’t reached, a growing majority of Americans would blame the GOP for the failure. Many conservatives seem to believe that Boehner’s pragmatism is a sign of a total abandonment of conservative principles. House conservatives are under the impression that Americans have given them a mandate for solving the fiscal cliff crisis. While that is the case, Americans also voted to keep the Senate and White House under Democratic control.

If voters wanted conservatives to hold out for conservative principles, they would have voted for a Tea Party conservative in the presidential primaries and would have also elected many more of the Tea Party candidates who ran for Senate last month. The hope of House conservatives that they can get more from the House leadership (and from the Senate and White House for that matter) is a fantasy that could sink GOP popularity ratings. Boehner’s committee reshuffling today was an attempt to maintain control of the only branch of government the GOP currently holds. Boehner is fighting a war over the fiscal cliff on two fronts; today we saw him hit back at his right flank. 

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Pew Poll: Majority Would Still Blame GOP for Fiscal Cliff Failure

That recent CNN poll showing a majority of Americans would blame the GOP if the country goes over the fiscal cliff apparently wasn’t an outlier. A new Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll found similar results, The Fix reports:

While 53 percent of those surveyed say the GOP would (and should) lose the fiscal cliff blame game, just 27 percent say President Obama would be deserving of more of the blame. Roughly one in 10 (12 percent) volunteer that both sides would be equally to blame.

Those numbers are largely unchanged from a Post-Pew survey conducted three weeks ago and suggest that for all of the back and forth in Washington on the fiscal cliff, there has been little movement in public perception. The numbers also explain why Republicans privately fret about the political dangers of going over the cliff, while Democrats are more sanguine about such a prospect

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That recent CNN poll showing a majority of Americans would blame the GOP if the country goes over the fiscal cliff apparently wasn’t an outlier. A new Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll found similar results, The Fix reports:

While 53 percent of those surveyed say the GOP would (and should) lose the fiscal cliff blame game, just 27 percent say President Obama would be deserving of more of the blame. Roughly one in 10 (12 percent) volunteer that both sides would be equally to blame.

Those numbers are largely unchanged from a Post-Pew survey conducted three weeks ago and suggest that for all of the back and forth in Washington on the fiscal cliff, there has been little movement in public perception. The numbers also explain why Republicans privately fret about the political dangers of going over the cliff, while Democrats are more sanguine about such a prospect

It’s also why Democrats feel they have an upper hand in negotiations. President Obama has rejected the GOP’s counter-offer to his first proposal, saying that tax hikes are a must and walking back his prior openness on entitlement cuts:

“I don’t think the issue right now has to do with sitting in a room,” Obama said in an interview with Bloomberg TV. “The issue right now that’s relevant is the acknowledgment that if we’re going to raise revenues that are sufficient to balance with the very tough cuts that we’ve already made and the further reforms in entitlements that I’m prepared to make, that we’re going to have to see the rates on the top 2 percent go up. And we’re not going to be able to get a deal without it.”

“It’s not me being stubborn,” Obama added. “It’s not me being partisan. It’s just a matter of math.”

In his first TV interview since winning reelection, Obama said he is open to changes to entitlement programs but wouldn’t commit to benefit cuts. It suggests a step back from his position during his 2011 debt limit negotiations with Boehner, when he agreed to raising the Medicare eligibility age, asking wealthier seniors to pay more for Medicare services and changing the inflation calculator for government programs such as Social Security.

Obama seems more interested in breaking the GOP than reaching a balanced agreement that deals with the entitlement crisis. And it’s not exactly a surprise. He’s always been primarily focused on eking out these little political victories — that’s how he governed during his first term, and that’s how he ran his campaigns. Why would he change now?

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President Obama, Architect of Pain

President Obama’s proposal to Republicans to avoid going over the so-called fiscal cliff — huge tax increases, huge spending increases, and no serious entitlement reform — is risible. What the president is offering up is essentially his last budget, which didn’t win a single vote of support from any member of Congress.  

It may be that this proposal was simply an extreme negotiating position that will be dramatically reshaped over the next 27 days. Or it may be that the president is, for political reasons, happy to have us go over the cliff. The calculation would be that he’s confident he can pin blame on Republicans for this having happened, portraying them as willing to increase taxes on the middle class and wreck the economy in order to keep taxes on the richest 1 percent from going up to Clinton-era rates.

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President Obama’s proposal to Republicans to avoid going over the so-called fiscal cliff — huge tax increases, huge spending increases, and no serious entitlement reform — is risible. What the president is offering up is essentially his last budget, which didn’t win a single vote of support from any member of Congress.  

It may be that this proposal was simply an extreme negotiating position that will be dramatically reshaped over the next 27 days. Or it may be that the president is, for political reasons, happy to have us go over the cliff. The calculation would be that he’s confident he can pin blame on Republicans for this having happened, portraying them as willing to increase taxes on the middle class and wreck the economy in order to keep taxes on the richest 1 percent from going up to Clinton-era rates.

The president, fresh off his re-election victory, does have a strong hand to play. But I agree with those (like Keith Hennessey and Charles Krauthammer) who believe Mr. Obama may well over-reach and in the process severely injure his second term. Because if we go over the fiscal cliff, and as a result unemployment rises to above 9 percent and we go into another recession, there is no way the president escapes responsibility for that. We saw a version of this during the 44-day debt negotiations in the summer of 2011, an ugly and unsatisfying process that left everyone associated with it — including the president — diminished and damaged (for more, see Bob Woodard’s instructive book, The Price of Politics). If we go over the fiscal cliff, it will make that episode look like a model of good government. The public will be enraged at everyone who played a part in this failure — and the most conspicuous person of all will be Mr. Obama.

His first term was characterized by anemic economic growth and job creation — and if no deal is struck between now and the New Year he may well see to it that his second term is no better. This time, by the way, he won’t be able to blame George W. Bush for his failures. Which is another way of saying that the next few weeks could go some distance toward determining whether Obama’s presidency one day ranks as among the most economically ruinous in American history.

In light of that, Republicans should continue to act in a reasonable and responsible way, as Speaker Boehner has with his offer to raise tax revenues in exchange for spending cuts and some steps toward entitlement reform. It may be that the president comes to his senses, and if so they should be ready to deal. But if not, and if the president insists that the GOP jettison its beliefs and simply accede to Mr. Obama’s liberal wish list, Republicans should — in a respectful but firm way — say no thanks. If they do so, Republicans shouldn’t pretend that going over the cliff won’t hurt them. But they shouldn’t be blind to the fact that it will also hurt Mr. Obama, and perhaps permanently.

Republicans, then, are in a somewhat stronger position than they may think. And even if they weren’t, capitulation — which increasingly is what the president seems to demand of them — would be undignified and unwise. If we go over the fiscal cliff, the country will unfortunately suffer. But so, politically, will Barack Obama, the architect of the pain.

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Will Ryan Lead GOP Resistance to Deal?

As negotiations over a deal on the federal deficit continue, President Obama pressed his advantage with his House Republican antagonists yesterday with his latest speech harping on the need to raise taxes. Though he calls his plan a “balanced approach,” as the New York Times notes today, “the high-profile public campaign he has been waging in recent days has focused almost entirely on the tax side of the equation, with scant talk about his priorities when it comes to curbing spending.” That doesn’t mean that some spending cuts won’t eventually be included in any deal. But with more signs of GOP panic about being blamed for the standoff, the expectation is that the president will get a lot more than he will give in the negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner.

As Politico reports today, the outline of a deal is already in place and few in Washington believe the Republicans will stand their ground when it comes to opposing the raising of rates on wealthier Americans, even if those hikes won’t do much to solve the deficit. Even worse is the possibility that rather than just closing loopholes and eliminating deductions instead of raising rates, what will happen is that the GOP will wind up doing both while failing to extract an agreement on reforming the tax code or an end to out-of-control spending on entitlements.

But if the assumption that Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor will decide that discretion is the better part of valor and fold in order to avoid the fiscal cliff is correct, that leaves us with the not unimportant question of who it will be that will lead the resistance to such a deal. The answer to that question will tell us a lot about the future of the Republican Party as well as the 2016 presidential race.

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As negotiations over a deal on the federal deficit continue, President Obama pressed his advantage with his House Republican antagonists yesterday with his latest speech harping on the need to raise taxes. Though he calls his plan a “balanced approach,” as the New York Times notes today, “the high-profile public campaign he has been waging in recent days has focused almost entirely on the tax side of the equation, with scant talk about his priorities when it comes to curbing spending.” That doesn’t mean that some spending cuts won’t eventually be included in any deal. But with more signs of GOP panic about being blamed for the standoff, the expectation is that the president will get a lot more than he will give in the negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner.

As Politico reports today, the outline of a deal is already in place and few in Washington believe the Republicans will stand their ground when it comes to opposing the raising of rates on wealthier Americans, even if those hikes won’t do much to solve the deficit. Even worse is the possibility that rather than just closing loopholes and eliminating deductions instead of raising rates, what will happen is that the GOP will wind up doing both while failing to extract an agreement on reforming the tax code or an end to out-of-control spending on entitlements.

But if the assumption that Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor will decide that discretion is the better part of valor and fold in order to avoid the fiscal cliff is correct, that leaves us with the not unimportant question of who it will be that will lead the resistance to such a deal. The answer to that question will tell us a lot about the future of the Republican Party as well as the 2016 presidential race.

As Politico notes, the wild card in the GOP leadership is Rep. Paul Ryan, who is now back on the Hill in his role as House Budget Committee chair after his stint as Mitt Romney’s vice presidential nominee. Reportedly, Ryan is the sole member of the top House GOP leadership who is still opposed to conceding the argument about raising taxes that his colleagues consider to be inevitable.

If Ryan came out openly against the agreement, it would take the already fractious debate about the direction of the Republican Party to a new level of contentiousness. A full-scale revolt would pit the Tea Party core of the GOP against its more pragmatic leaders with consequences that can’t be entirely predicted. That would be catnip for a liberal media that loves to depict the GOP as extremists. It could also set the stage for a difficult vote in which liberal Democrats might choose to join with conservatives in opposing an Obama-Boehner deal in the hope that sending the country over the cliff would be blamed solely on the Republicans. However, a Ryan-led opposition to a deal would be no pushover, and even the possibility of such a party split might cause Boehner to pull back from a deal that could sunder his caucus and achieve the same results.

A Ryan revolt or even a situation in which he was seen as the one member who kept the GOP true to its principles might also be the first blow in what is sure to be a protracted four-year lead-up to the 2016 presidential contest. By taking a stand now, Ryan would further establish himself as the hero of conservatives and the Tea Party even as he alienated the party’s House leadership. But it is the former rather than the latter that helps picks party nominees.

However, should Ryan decide to go along with Boehner, that won’t mean there won’t be any opposition to a pact with Obama. There will, and it will be angry and loud. But if it falls to someone like Michele Bachmann or a similar Tea Party rabble-rouser, the effect won’t be the same as if Ryan were the standard-bearer. In that case, Boehner would probably prevail. Seen in that light, Ryan’s decision may well decide the fate of any fiscal deal.

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Confident Obama Counting on GOP Panic

There’s no doubt that a president who has just been re-elected has a lot more leverage in a negotiation than the House Republican leadership. But if President Obama is feeling confident that he can have his way in any deal that prevents the country from heading over the fiscal cliff, it’s not just because of his victory over Mitt Romney earlier this month. The spectacle of House Republicans starting to snipe at each other and tax activist Grover Norquist is evidence that the campaign to pressure Congress into backing tax increases being orchestrated by the White House appears to be working.

While the pushback against Norquist’s heavy-handed attempts to bludgeon Republicans into obedience is understandable, both the anti-tax purists and those more amenable to compromise are playing right into Obama’s hands. Rather than the debate centering on whether tax increases will hurt the economy and the need for Democrats to put entitlement spending on the table in any deal to prevent the country from heading over the fiscal cliff, right now the debate seems to center on a growing civil war within GOP ranks. Rather than sticking with House Speaker Boehner and strengthening his hand in negotiations, many Republicans are allowing themselves to be panicked into a stand that would effectively allow the president’s plans for tax increases to go forward without any commitments about reforming the tax code or entitlement spending. If the trend continues and a critical mass of Boehner’s caucus breaks, the result will not just be a tactical defeat on a point where Obama may have the country’s support, but a rout that will enable the president to avoid any commitment to significant spending cuts.

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There’s no doubt that a president who has just been re-elected has a lot more leverage in a negotiation than the House Republican leadership. But if President Obama is feeling confident that he can have his way in any deal that prevents the country from heading over the fiscal cliff, it’s not just because of his victory over Mitt Romney earlier this month. The spectacle of House Republicans starting to snipe at each other and tax activist Grover Norquist is evidence that the campaign to pressure Congress into backing tax increases being orchestrated by the White House appears to be working.

While the pushback against Norquist’s heavy-handed attempts to bludgeon Republicans into obedience is understandable, both the anti-tax purists and those more amenable to compromise are playing right into Obama’s hands. Rather than the debate centering on whether tax increases will hurt the economy and the need for Democrats to put entitlement spending on the table in any deal to prevent the country from heading over the fiscal cliff, right now the debate seems to center on a growing civil war within GOP ranks. Rather than sticking with House Speaker Boehner and strengthening his hand in negotiations, many Republicans are allowing themselves to be panicked into a stand that would effectively allow the president’s plans for tax increases to go forward without any commitments about reforming the tax code or entitlement spending. If the trend continues and a critical mass of Boehner’s caucus breaks, the result will not just be a tactical defeat on a point where Obama may have the country’s support, but a rout that will enable the president to avoid any commitment to significant spending cuts.

The president was happy to mention the fact that Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole publicly called yesterday for a quick deal with the White House that would allow some taxes to go up while getting nothing about tax reform or entitlements. Cole isn’t alone; many other Republicans are reading poll numbers that show most Americans support measures that would soak the rich, and think that they are better off ditching their principles than standing firm and getting blamed for the failure to get an agreement.

The danger of Republicans getting the lion’s share of the blame for the country heading over the fiscal cliff is real. It may be that such a view is based on a skewed view of the standoff in which the president’s intransigence and ideological fervor for tax hikes is ignored while Tea Partiers are spoken of as extremists. The president seems eager for just such a debacle since he believes it would hurt his opponents and give him even more support in the next round of budget talks.

But what is starting to look like a rush to the lifeboats by many in the GOP caucus is not only counter-productive; it isn’t necessary.

The rush to a quick agreement would get the GOP off the hook for the crisis. But if they fold quickly rather than allowing Boehner to get them the best deal possible, they will regret it. A bargain may eventually have to be accepted that would allow increased federal revenues. But it is sheer cowardice on the part of Republicans to concede defeat before Democrats have even had to put a rudimentary offer on a more rational tax code or entitlement cuts on the table.

Democrats are right to note that elections have consequences, but that doesn’t mean Republicans need to simply give up. The GOP majority won re-election by pledging to stop the growth of the government and tax increases. That doesn’t mean that they must go to their graves vowing fealty to Norquist’s pledges if a reasonable alternative can be reached that would achieve their long-range goal of changing the system. But to quit the fight now just because some are feeling the pressure being exerted by the mainstream media and the Democrats would doom any hopes for reform over the next two years.

There is no guarantee that if they do stand their ground Obama will listen to reason and compromise on his demands. But if the panic spreads, then House Republicans might as well not even show up in January since the Democrats will have already beaten back their attempt to address the problems they were sent to Washington to fix.

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Republicans Must Be Smart, Not Craven

As Congress reconvenes, Democrats are insisting that President Obama’s re-election means that House Republicans are going to have to give in to his demands for tax increases on the wealthy. While this will do very little to actually solve the impending budget crisis, the president’s supporters have a point when they claim that his victory means a majority of Americans supported his rhetoric about backing a balanced approach that would involve spending cuts in equal proportion to revenue increases. But as James Pethokoukis writes at AEI Ideas, a close look at what the president is asking for throws any notion of balance out the window.

It may be, as Bill Kristol pointed out on Fox News the other day, that it makes no sense for the GOP to “fall on its sword for a bunch of millionaires.” Speaker John Boehner’s initial offer to raise revenue by eliminating tax deductions for the wealthy was an indication that Republicans are prepared to start bargaining. And as Kristol said, there is an argument to be made that if the House leadership bargains the tax increase cutoff up, it may be good politics. But there should be no illusions that what the president is offering is a balanced plan in any sense of the word.

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As Congress reconvenes, Democrats are insisting that President Obama’s re-election means that House Republicans are going to have to give in to his demands for tax increases on the wealthy. While this will do very little to actually solve the impending budget crisis, the president’s supporters have a point when they claim that his victory means a majority of Americans supported his rhetoric about backing a balanced approach that would involve spending cuts in equal proportion to revenue increases. But as James Pethokoukis writes at AEI Ideas, a close look at what the president is asking for throws any notion of balance out the window.

It may be, as Bill Kristol pointed out on Fox News the other day, that it makes no sense for the GOP to “fall on its sword for a bunch of millionaires.” Speaker John Boehner’s initial offer to raise revenue by eliminating tax deductions for the wealthy was an indication that Republicans are prepared to start bargaining. And as Kristol said, there is an argument to be made that if the House leadership bargains the tax increase cutoff up, it may be good politics. But there should be no illusions that what the president is offering is a balanced plan in any sense of the word.

As Pethokoukis writes,

According to Obama’s math, his “balanced” plan cuts the projected cumulative debt by $4.4 trillion over ten years with 36% of the reduction coming from a $1.6 trillion tax increases — 80% from wealthier Americans, 20% from business. So, basically, $2 in spending cuts for each $1 in tax hikes. “Balanced.”

But once you begin to dig into the numbers, the plan doesn’t look balanced at all.

Talk of mandates is empty rhetoric whether it is meant to undercut the president or bolster his standing. His Electoral College majority is his mandate to govern and certain deference to his re-election is customary. But that doesn’t mean Republicans need to abandon their principles or acquiesce to a plan that does nothing to address the deficit or entitlement reform.

Pethokoukis also illustrates that what the president is calling for bears a greater resemblance to the fiscal follies of Europe than American notions of fiscal austerity such as the Simpson-Bowles plan:

Even if you include interest savings, 60% of the debt reduction comes from tax hikes. Obama is making the exact mistake Europe is making by employing a tax-hike heavy version of fiscal austerity. Indeed, a 2010 analysis by AEI scholars found that successful fiscal consolidations are heavy on spending cuts, light on tax hikes. Even Bill Clinton’s debt reduction plan was 2-1 in favor of spending cuts. The Obama plan is dangerously unbalanced, especially given the weak economic recovery.

The point here is that for all of the Democratic bravado about Obama’s mandate to tax the rich and do as he likes, there is still plenty of room for Republicans to both bargain constructively to avoid the fiscal cliff and to defend their principles. The president has as much if not far more to lose from a standoff that would wreck an already weak economy. Now is the time for Republicans to be smart but not craven.

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Obama Open to Compromise on Tax Hikes? UPDATE: Nope

President Obama just delivered a statement on the fiscal cliff negotiations, reiterating his demand that more tax revenue come from upper-income earners. But he didn’t specify whether he would be willing to take the revenue from reforms in the tax code rather than tax hikes, an idea House Speaker John Boehner has indicated he’s open to. The fact that Obama was vague on that point could be a sign he’s ready to compromise on his demand that the Bush tax cuts be repealed for the top tax bracket.

What Obama made very clear, however, is that he wants to shift the onus for action onto Congress (h/t Washington Examiner): 

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President Obama just delivered a statement on the fiscal cliff negotiations, reiterating his demand that more tax revenue come from upper-income earners. But he didn’t specify whether he would be willing to take the revenue from reforms in the tax code rather than tax hikes, an idea House Speaker John Boehner has indicated he’s open to. The fact that Obama was vague on that point could be a sign he’s ready to compromise on his demand that the Bush tax cuts be repealed for the top tax bracket.

What Obama made very clear, however, is that he wants to shift the onus for action onto Congress (h/t Washington Examiner): 

While Obama didn’t use the word “mandate,” his basic message was that the House Republicans are the only obstacle to a solution the American people favor. “A majority of Americans agree with my approach,” he said at one point. Boehner’s strategy has been the opposite, calling on President Obama to take the lead and compromise on tax hikes:

Speaker John Boehner again tried to shift responsibility for the looming fiscal cliff to President Barack Obama, saying expiring tax rates and trillions of dollars in spending cuts are mostly his to solve.

“This is an opportunity for the president to lead,” Boehner said Friday in the Capitol. “This is his moment to engage the Congress and work toward a solution that can pass both chambers.”

Boehner struck a part conciliatory, part aggressive tone but stayed vague on the next few months in what’s sure to be a tense Washington would look like.

Both are short on details, waiting instead for their meeting next week to lay out their demands. But from their statements so far, it seems like there may be room for common ground on tax revenue.

UPDATE: Strike that. Jay Carney just said in the White House briefing Obama will only accept a deal that repeals the Bush tax cuts for the top tax bracket. “If a bill were to reach his desk that extends tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent, he will not sign,” said Carney. “We cannot afford it.” Interestingly enough, Carney also said the president wants to both repeal the top-level Bush tax cuts and reform the tax code. If you’re going to get the extra revenue out of the tax code reform, why would you need to raise tax rates even further, unless your policy stance has more to do with a personal view of “fairness” than with closing the deficit?

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Boehner: GOP Ready for Fiscal Cliff Compromise

The battle over the “fiscal cliff” resumed yesterday, and so far it’s sounding much more mellow than it was before the election. In a speech, House Speaker John Boehner emphasized that Republicans are open to raising tax revenues through tax code reform:

House Republicans, Boehner said, are open to raising more tax revenue to reduce deficits — a key Democratic requirement — but only if it’s done through tax reform that lowers income tax rates and in conjunction with entitlement reform.

Done right, Boehner said in public remarks in Washington, a reformed tax code can raise more revenue by curbing special interest loopholes and deductions and by generating economic growth.

That’s very different than raising tax rates — something that has been off the table for Republicans.

Obama, by contrast, has proposed making a down payment on debt reduction by letting the portion of the Bush tax cuts that apply to high-income households expire. That would mean the top two income tax rates would increase to 36% and 39.6% next year from 33% and 35% today.

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The battle over the “fiscal cliff” resumed yesterday, and so far it’s sounding much more mellow than it was before the election. In a speech, House Speaker John Boehner emphasized that Republicans are open to raising tax revenues through tax code reform:

House Republicans, Boehner said, are open to raising more tax revenue to reduce deficits — a key Democratic requirement — but only if it’s done through tax reform that lowers income tax rates and in conjunction with entitlement reform.

Done right, Boehner said in public remarks in Washington, a reformed tax code can raise more revenue by curbing special interest loopholes and deductions and by generating economic growth.

That’s very different than raising tax rates — something that has been off the table for Republicans.

Obama, by contrast, has proposed making a down payment on debt reduction by letting the portion of the Bush tax cuts that apply to high-income households expire. That would mean the top two income tax rates would increase to 36% and 39.6% next year from 33% and 35% today.

Meanwhile, Obama seems to be working on his interpersonal relations:

“He’s simply going to have to take a more active and forceful role,” said Democratic strategist Jim Manley, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. “He never got involved in the nitty-gritty of the legislative process. In light of the hyper-partisanship that still surrounds Capitol Hill, he’s going to have to change, and he’s going to have to take more of a lead in breaking the logjam.” 

There are already indications that Obama is ready to do so. The president, who said in his Nov. 6 victory speech that he was “looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together,” spoke yesterday by telephone with the top congressional Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate.

A new tone, or just the parties regrouping for what’s expected to be a particularly nasty battle? As CNN notes, Boehner hasn’t specified how much he would want to raise through closing loopholes and deductions, and how much he would want to raise through economic growth generated by tax reform (more jobs, higher salaries, more tax revenue for the government). The latter is trickier to calculate, which means it may not be included in the Congressional assessment of how much revenue will be brought in, reports CNN:

In any case, the conventional way Congress assesses how much revenue a proposal would raise does not include potential economic growth effects of the kind Boehner expects, noted Jim Kessler, senior vice president for policy at the centrist think tank Third Way. 

So an official “score” of revenue raised from such a tax reform plan would be most heavily reliant on the tax breaks that are curtailed.

But if that “economic growth” revenue is left out of the equation, the proposal would have to rely primarily on closing loopholes and deductions. That means a lot of people would be paying more taxes, even if rates don’t change (the left portrays this as Republicans letting taxes rise across the board in order to protect their cronies in the top tax bracket). It’s hard to imagine Democrats passing up a chance to dredge up the class warfare rhetoric during the lame duck session, but enjoy this (probably brief) lull in partisan sniping while it lasts.

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Must GOP Bow to Obama’s Fiscal Demands?

With the president’s election victory still fresh in their minds, Democrats are assuming that Tuesday’s results mean that Congressional Republicans are bound to bow to their demands for tax increases. Such sentiments are understandable given the Democrats’ clear victory in the presidential contest as well as their gains in Congress. Having campaigned on a platform of raising taxes on the wealthy, there may be little reason to assume President Obama is going to back down on his demands and, as many liberals have already pointed out, he’s going to be bitterly criticized if he does compromise on his soak-the-rich approach. Yet though Republicans may still be shell shocked by the election returns, there is no reason for them to cave in on their principles just because the president and his media cheering section expect them to.

House Speaker John Boehner sounded an appropriate note, albeit one that was pure political boilerplate, when he said yesterday, “Mr. President, this is your moment. We’re ready to be led — not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans. We want you to lead, not as a liberal or a conservative, but as president of the United States of America.” But his airy rhetoric contains a kernel of truth. If the country is to avoid going over the fiscal cliff in the next month, and avoid the terrible consequences that would result from a failure to reach a budget deal, it is going to require the kind of presidential leadership and ability to compromise that Obama has never been willing to provide in his first four years in office. The question before the country is not so much the one that liberals have been asking about Republicans simply waving the white flag as it is whether the president can actually bargain in good faith and get a deal.

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With the president’s election victory still fresh in their minds, Democrats are assuming that Tuesday’s results mean that Congressional Republicans are bound to bow to their demands for tax increases. Such sentiments are understandable given the Democrats’ clear victory in the presidential contest as well as their gains in Congress. Having campaigned on a platform of raising taxes on the wealthy, there may be little reason to assume President Obama is going to back down on his demands and, as many liberals have already pointed out, he’s going to be bitterly criticized if he does compromise on his soak-the-rich approach. Yet though Republicans may still be shell shocked by the election returns, there is no reason for them to cave in on their principles just because the president and his media cheering section expect them to.

House Speaker John Boehner sounded an appropriate note, albeit one that was pure political boilerplate, when he said yesterday, “Mr. President, this is your moment. We’re ready to be led — not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans. We want you to lead, not as a liberal or a conservative, but as president of the United States of America.” But his airy rhetoric contains a kernel of truth. If the country is to avoid going over the fiscal cliff in the next month, and avoid the terrible consequences that would result from a failure to reach a budget deal, it is going to require the kind of presidential leadership and ability to compromise that Obama has never been willing to provide in his first four years in office. The question before the country is not so much the one that liberals have been asking about Republicans simply waving the white flag as it is whether the president can actually bargain in good faith and get a deal.

Ever since last year’s debt ceiling crisis that set in motion the events that could lead to an automatic tax increase and sequestration of funds that would require massive across-the-board budget cuts for vital services and national defense, both the president and his antagonists have acted as if they had nothing to lose by going to the brink. In particular, the president’s strategy has seemed to revolve around an effort to drive the GOP leaders in the House away from a deal so as to be able to use their refusal to bow to his dictates as a political talking point. Obama’s model was the 1995 government shutdown in which President Clinton managed to outmaneuver then House Speaker Newt Gingrich into a corner and make him take the blame for the problem.

Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor managed to avoid being fitted for the Gingrich clown suits but no deal was ever struck that they — or their caucus — could live with. But most observers seem to think that after the president’s re-election they have no choice but to give in on the extension of the Bush tax cuts. Congress’s reputation is in tatters and it stands to reason that the GOP would prefer to avoid not only the catastrophic cuts and taxes that a failure to make a deal would entail but the blame for the economic distress that would ensue.

However, the House Republicans aren’t the only ones feeling some pressure.

Most Democrats may be strutting this week and engaging in triumphalist rhetoric about their ability to dominate the country’s politics for the foreseeable future. But the president understands that a budget standoff could trigger an economic downturn that could cripple the start of his second term and set in motion a train of events that will make the next four years a nightmare for the country and for him. Though Republicans don’t want to be the scapegoats for a budget meltdown, the president needs a deal far more than they do.

But in order to get one, the president is going to have to eschew the sort of high-handed approach to Congress that has been the pattern for his first term. While that worked politically for him, it also served to give Boehner less room to negotiate since the president infuriated the GOP caucus and helped make it easier for them to dig in their heels and oppose a compromise. If the president wants Boehner to give him a deal, that will mean sitting down and asking for more revenue in ways that the GOP can live with–such as closing loopholes and deductions, but not confiscatory tax policies that will cripple economic growth.

For two years, President Obama has refused to take this deal, since it was in his political interest to portray Boehner and the GOP Congress as extremists. But though his supporters don’t seem to realize it, his political interests now lie in a policy that requires him to avoid the class warfare rhetoric and tactics designed to demonize Republicans he has employed in past negotiations.

The president needs to negotiate and take the deal Boehner is offering him with modifications that will allow him to save face. Doing so is good for the country and for his prospects for a second term that isn’t as awful as those of most of his predecessors.

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Boehner: “Justice Dept is Out of Excuses”

House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa clearly wasn’t bluffing when he circulated a draft contempt order against Attorney General Eric Holder early last month. CBS News reports that Issa has scheduled a committee vote on the contempt charges for June 20:

On Monday morning, Issa formally announced the committee vote on contempt, set for Wednesday, June 20. House Speaker John Boehner also released a statement supporting the move, saying “the Justice Department is out of excuses.”

“Congress has given Attorney General Holder more than enough time to fully cooperate with its investigation into ‘Fast and Furious,’ and to help uncover the circumstances regarding the death of Border Agent Brian Terry,” Boehner added. “Either the Justice Department turns over the information requested, or Congress will have no choice but to move forward with holding the attorney general in contempt for obstructing an ongoing investigation.”

There would apparently be bipartisan support for the motion if it managed to get past the Oversight Committee: Issa told BuzzFeed earlier today that he believes 31 Democrats would support the motion in a floor vote, which is notably the same number of Democrats who signed a letter to President Obama last summer urging him to assist the investigation. Only one of the letter’s Democratic signatories, Rep. Jim Cooper, is actually on the Oversight Committee. Still, the motion is expected to pass.

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House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa clearly wasn’t bluffing when he circulated a draft contempt order against Attorney General Eric Holder early last month. CBS News reports that Issa has scheduled a committee vote on the contempt charges for June 20:

On Monday morning, Issa formally announced the committee vote on contempt, set for Wednesday, June 20. House Speaker John Boehner also released a statement supporting the move, saying “the Justice Department is out of excuses.”

“Congress has given Attorney General Holder more than enough time to fully cooperate with its investigation into ‘Fast and Furious,’ and to help uncover the circumstances regarding the death of Border Agent Brian Terry,” Boehner added. “Either the Justice Department turns over the information requested, or Congress will have no choice but to move forward with holding the attorney general in contempt for obstructing an ongoing investigation.”

There would apparently be bipartisan support for the motion if it managed to get past the Oversight Committee: Issa told BuzzFeed earlier today that he believes 31 Democrats would support the motion in a floor vote, which is notably the same number of Democrats who signed a letter to President Obama last summer urging him to assist the investigation. Only one of the letter’s Democratic signatories, Rep. Jim Cooper, is actually on the Oversight Committee. Still, the motion is expected to pass.

Issa also told BuzzFeed that he’s given up hope the vote will pressure Holder into turning over the requested documents, and he’s now shifting the burden to President Obama:

Issa said under normal circumstances he’d expect the vote to pressure Holder to turn over the documents, but that now he’s hoping the president intercedes on Congress’ behalf.

“After Thursday’s hearing with the attorney general, no, I don’t expect it, but I would hope that the president would second-guess the man that he says he has full faith and confidence in, and tell him that it’s time to deliver reasonable documents,” Issa said.

The vote will certainly increase the pressure on both the attorney general and the White House, if only because it will incite more media scrutiny and negative press. Contempt votes are extremely rare, and only four officials –  EPA administrator Anne Gorsuch Burford, Attorney General Janet Reno, White House counsel Harriet Miers and Chief of Staff John Bolton — have been found in contempt of Congress since 1983.

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Congress Must Act Soon on Sequestration

The evidence builds about the catastrophic costs of sequestration–the automatic budget cuts, amounting to half a trillion dollars during the next decade, that will devastate the defense budget starting on Jan. 1 or actually even earlier because companies will have to start laying off workers in preparation.

The Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington has issued a new report under the authorship of former National Security Advisor General James Jones, former Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee Pete Domenici, and former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman that finds that, if sequestration were to occur, the economy would lose more than a million jobs in 2013 and 2014. Glickman rightly described this as as a “reverse stimulus plan” and Domenici–known for being a fiscal, not a national security, hawk–called it a “fiasco.”

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The evidence builds about the catastrophic costs of sequestration–the automatic budget cuts, amounting to half a trillion dollars during the next decade, that will devastate the defense budget starting on Jan. 1 or actually even earlier because companies will have to start laying off workers in preparation.

The Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington has issued a new report under the authorship of former National Security Advisor General James Jones, former Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee Pete Domenici, and former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman that finds that, if sequestration were to occur, the economy would lose more than a million jobs in 2013 and 2014. Glickman rightly described this as as a “reverse stimulus plan” and Domenici–known for being a fiscal, not a national security, hawk–called it a “fiasco.”

Yet Harry Reid and John Boehner, the two leaders of Congress, seem to be engaged in a game of budget chicken, which makes it increasingly unlikely that the sequester will be turned off before the end of the year. The former wants tax increases; the latter doesn’t–and the two seem to be ignoring the damage their standoff is doing to the men and women in uniform. I talked to one Hill staffer last week who thought there was a 90 percent chance the sequestration would go into effect on Jan. 1; the best hope of stopping it, he argued, would be early in 2013 if President Romney is in office by then.

Whatever the prospects of turning off the sequester in a Romney administration, the reality is that if Congress doesn’t act soon, its harmful effects will be felt not only in the Department of Defense but in companies across the country that are defense contractors or sub-contractors.

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Another Debt Standoff? Let Voters Decide

House Speaker John Boehner is being blamed for setting the stage for a repeat of last summer’s debt ceiling crisis. In a speech, Boehner vowed that he wouldn’t go along with raising the amount of money the government can borrow to cover its debts unless Congress passed more spending cuts. An anguished chorus of Democrats predicting woe to the economy if another debt deadlock drama threatened the nation’s credit rating greeted this promise. The battle lines between the parties on the budget are still seemingly set in stone. Republicans, rightly in my view, don’t believe taxes that will harm an already sinking economy should be raised to allow the government to spend more money that it doesn’t have. Democrats prefer to play the class warfare card about taxing the rich but are still not prepared to contemplate the fundamental reform of entitlements that are drowning the nation in debt.

This means sooner or later there will be another Capitol Hill confrontation in which the two sides will seek to stand on their principles while demanding their opponents give up theirs for the sake of good government. If Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is to be believed, that next round won’t take place before the November election, because he said the government has the “tools” to keep the ship of state afloat until early next year. Let’s hope he’s right, because the answer to this stalemate won’t be found in the posturing of the parties or the somewhat disingenuous pious calls of President Obama for compromise. The only solution to this problem is to have an election.

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House Speaker John Boehner is being blamed for setting the stage for a repeat of last summer’s debt ceiling crisis. In a speech, Boehner vowed that he wouldn’t go along with raising the amount of money the government can borrow to cover its debts unless Congress passed more spending cuts. An anguished chorus of Democrats predicting woe to the economy if another debt deadlock drama threatened the nation’s credit rating greeted this promise. The battle lines between the parties on the budget are still seemingly set in stone. Republicans, rightly in my view, don’t believe taxes that will harm an already sinking economy should be raised to allow the government to spend more money that it doesn’t have. Democrats prefer to play the class warfare card about taxing the rich but are still not prepared to contemplate the fundamental reform of entitlements that are drowning the nation in debt.

This means sooner or later there will be another Capitol Hill confrontation in which the two sides will seek to stand on their principles while demanding their opponents give up theirs for the sake of good government. If Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is to be believed, that next round won’t take place before the November election, because he said the government has the “tools” to keep the ship of state afloat until early next year. Let’s hope he’s right, because the answer to this stalemate won’t be found in the posturing of the parties or the somewhat disingenuous pious calls of President Obama for compromise. The only solution to this problem is to have an election.

What’s wrong about much of the rhetoric used in the debt ceiling debate is the presumption that the two parties are not offering clear choices. Rather than spend another summer badgering each other to act in a manner contrary to the promises they made the voters, what the parties need to do is to simply go to the people and ask for a mandate. While such a standoff in a parliamentary system would result in the government’s fall and new elections, our Constitution requires that we wait until the next federal election for the same remedy.

The current situation is the result of having a House of Representatives that was produced by the Republican landslide in 2010 and a Senate with two-thirds of its members who were elected in the Democratic years of 2006 and 2008 when they also had one of their number elevated to the White House. What is needed this year is a clear answer from the electorate in which they choose a Congress and a president of the same party who can then put into effect the budget and spending plans they campaigned on.

It is possible that in November the voters will duplicate this unhappy situation by re-electing President Obama along with a Republican Congress. It is also possible, though less likely, that a President Romney will be faced with at least one chamber controlled by the Democrats. If that happens, then it will be time to talk compromise again, as it will not be possible for both sides to have their way.

But until that happens, it would be far better if we heard less talk in Washington about letting the “adults” set the agenda. That’s just another way of saying that we must continue with business as usual and put off making any decisions about reforming the system. While the DC establishment deprecates the efforts of some members and activists to put an end to the governing class merely dividing the spoils, calls for bipartisanship on the budget is merely a cover for avoiding fundamental change.

The two sides of the political aisle have competing visions about how we should operate the government. Romney laid down a marker on this issue yesterday with a speech in Iowa about the “prairie fire of debt” spreading through the nation while the president hasn’t let up with his calls for taxing the rich (even though that won’t do a thing to solve the budget tangle). Instead of pressuring those elected to stand up for one of those visions and betray the voters who sent them to Washington, it’s time to tell the voters to choose. That is the only and the best solution to any political deadlock.

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Obama Mocks Boehner at Union Event

Last week, President Obama was focused on the student loan extension bill as he pursued the youth vote, and this week he’s back to talking about the transportation bill at a union event. It may be hard to keep up with the president’s ever-changing priorities, which shift depending on which demographic he needs to court at the moment, but one thing remains the same. Obama is still railing against the “Do Nothing Congress”:

Obama’s latest attack on [House Speaker John] Boehner is over construction projects, which the president says have been blocked by Republicans who have refused to take up a long-term highway bill approved in a bipartisan vote by the Senate.

The president said the stalled legislation is keeping millions of workers jobless, and is preventing necessary projects forward across the country, including in Boehner’s own district. …

On Monday, he also sought to portray Boehner as out of touch with the needs of his own district.

“I went to the Speaker’s hometown, stood under a bridge that was crumbling, everybody acknowledges it needs to be rebuilt,” Obama said. “Maybe he doesn’t drive anymore. Maybe he doesn’t notice how messed up it was … they still said no.”

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Last week, President Obama was focused on the student loan extension bill as he pursued the youth vote, and this week he’s back to talking about the transportation bill at a union event. It may be hard to keep up with the president’s ever-changing priorities, which shift depending on which demographic he needs to court at the moment, but one thing remains the same. Obama is still railing against the “Do Nothing Congress”:

Obama’s latest attack on [House Speaker John] Boehner is over construction projects, which the president says have been blocked by Republicans who have refused to take up a long-term highway bill approved in a bipartisan vote by the Senate.

The president said the stalled legislation is keeping millions of workers jobless, and is preventing necessary projects forward across the country, including in Boehner’s own district. …

On Monday, he also sought to portray Boehner as out of touch with the needs of his own district.

“I went to the Speaker’s hometown, stood under a bridge that was crumbling, everybody acknowledges it needs to be rebuilt,” Obama said. “Maybe he doesn’t drive anymore. Maybe he doesn’t notice how messed up it was … they still said no.”

If you really want to get technical about who is blocking what, the House actually has passed a highway bill with bipartisan support, the same one that Obama threatened to veto because it includes a provision that would force him to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. The bill is short-term compared to the one passed by the Senate, but both chambers are set to deliberate a compromise. Notice that Obama conveniently ignores these relevant facts.

And speaking of Do Nothing Congress, yesterday marked the three-year anniversary of the last time the Senate Democrats passed a budget. For whatever reason, our obstruction-decrying president didn’t feel the need to mention that holdup.

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Ryan Budget Will Be GOP Blueprint

As Pete wrote earlier, Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan passed the House as expected this afternoon. And while that’s probably going to be the furthest it goes this year, Republicans are looking to make it their guiding message heading into the general election season.

House Speaker John Boehner kicked off this effort shortly after the budget plan passed:

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Thursday afternoon that the budget proposal put forward by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is a “real vision” of how Republicans would govern if they had more control of Washington.

“So I applaud my colleagues,” he said of those who worked on the Ryan budget, “for the tough decisions they’ve made, to try to do the right thing for the country, to lay out a real vision of what we were to do if we get more control here in this town. It’s still a Democrat-run town.” …

“You look at all the proposals we’ve seen in this debate, it’s all more of the same,” Boehner said. “Two things that are prevalent: let’s raise taxes on the American people once again, and secondly, let’s kick the can down the road as if no one knows that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are going broke.” …

“While we did a budget last year, we’re doing another budget this year, we’re making tough decisions to help preserve Social Security and preserve Medicare, the United States Senate… it’s been 1,065 days since they passed a budget,” he said. “Almost three years since they’ve had the courage to show the American people what their solutions are.”

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As Pete wrote earlier, Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan passed the House as expected this afternoon. And while that’s probably going to be the furthest it goes this year, Republicans are looking to make it their guiding message heading into the general election season.

House Speaker John Boehner kicked off this effort shortly after the budget plan passed:

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Thursday afternoon that the budget proposal put forward by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is a “real vision” of how Republicans would govern if they had more control of Washington.

“So I applaud my colleagues,” he said of those who worked on the Ryan budget, “for the tough decisions they’ve made, to try to do the right thing for the country, to lay out a real vision of what we were to do if we get more control here in this town. It’s still a Democrat-run town.” …

“You look at all the proposals we’ve seen in this debate, it’s all more of the same,” Boehner said. “Two things that are prevalent: let’s raise taxes on the American people once again, and secondly, let’s kick the can down the road as if no one knows that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are going broke.” …

“While we did a budget last year, we’re doing another budget this year, we’re making tough decisions to help preserve Social Security and preserve Medicare, the United States Senate… it’s been 1,065 days since they passed a budget,” he said. “Almost three years since they’ve had the courage to show the American people what their solutions are.”

If you want a perfect example of the contrast Republicans are trying to create between their own vision and the vision of the Democratic Party, take a look at this exchange between Ryan and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. On the floor yesterday, DWS launched into a dramatic spiel about how the Medicare growth rate in Ryan’s plan would ravage the lives of the elderly. But as Ryan points out, the growth rate he proposes is the same as the one in another plan DWS should be very, very familiar with:

Of course, the way Ryan and Obama each choose to deal with the growth rate is very different. While Obama’s seeking to put price-control power under the jurisdiction of a board of unelected bureaucrats, Ryan’s proposal would rein in costs through competitive bidding provisions. Private choice as opposed to government management. And that’s the contrast the GOP will work to highlight between now and the fall.

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In Praise of Speaker John Boehner

Earlier today, the House of Representatives passed the GOP budget authored by Representative Paul Ryan by a vote of 228-191 (a day after President Obama’s budget was voted down in the House 414-0, which comes a year after Obama’s budget was voted down in the Senate 97-0). It’s therefore worth a tip of the hat not simply to Ryan, chairman of the Budget Committee, but also to Speaker John Boehner.

It was Boehner who a year ago gave the green light to Ryan to push ahead with his bold budget, even though then (and now) it calls for fundamentally reforming Medicare. Last year in particular the fear among many Republicans and conservatives was that advocating a restructuring of Medicare was political suicide. It hasn’t turned out that way, but that wasn’t known at the time. And Boehner’s support was crucial to Ryan; without it, the Wisconsin representative could never have pushed ahead.

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Earlier today, the House of Representatives passed the GOP budget authored by Representative Paul Ryan by a vote of 228-191 (a day after President Obama’s budget was voted down in the House 414-0, which comes a year after Obama’s budget was voted down in the Senate 97-0). It’s therefore worth a tip of the hat not simply to Ryan, chairman of the Budget Committee, but also to Speaker John Boehner.

It was Boehner who a year ago gave the green light to Ryan to push ahead with his bold budget, even though then (and now) it calls for fundamentally reforming Medicare. Last year in particular the fear among many Republicans and conservatives was that advocating a restructuring of Medicare was political suicide. It hasn’t turned out that way, but that wasn’t known at the time. And Boehner’s support was crucial to Ryan; without it, the Wisconsin representative could never have pushed ahead.

More broadly, Boehner has shown himself to be a first-rate Speaker – trustworthy, keeping his caucus together during trying moments, avoiding (for the most part) missteps, and demonstrating both pragmatism and a commitment to conservative principles. Boehner isn’t perfect, he’s not the flashiest speaker in history, and he doesn’t see his role as saving Western civilization and standing between us and Auschwitz. But he’s a very able and experienced politician, a steady hand on the wheel, and he’s shown courage in his own understated way.

That isn’t acknowledged nearly as often as it should be by conservatives.

 

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More Examples of Liberal Civility

During the weekend, in a speech in San Diego, Representative Maxine Waters said the following about Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor:

I saw pictures of Boehner and Cantor on our screens. Don’t ever let me see again, in life, those Republicans in our hall, on our screens, talking about anything. These are demons. These are legislators who are destroying this country rather than bringing us together, creating jobs, making sure we have a good tax policy, bringing our jobs from back offshore, incentivizing those who keep their jobs here. They are bringing down this country, destroying this country, because they can.

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During the weekend, in a speech in San Diego, Representative Maxine Waters said the following about Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor:

I saw pictures of Boehner and Cantor on our screens. Don’t ever let me see again, in life, those Republicans in our hall, on our screens, talking about anything. These are demons. These are legislators who are destroying this country rather than bringing us together, creating jobs, making sure we have a good tax policy, bringing our jobs from back offshore, incentivizing those who keep their jobs here. They are bringing down this country, destroying this country, because they can.

Often we speak about “demonizing” political opponents. In the case of Waters, she has literally attempted to demonize Boehner and Cantor.

On the plus side, it’s yet another insight into the insane rage that consumes many on the left. And the one person we can count on not to chastise Waters is the one person whose criticism would make a difference: Barack Obama. The man who routinely lectures the nation on civility when it comes to the right never says a word when the offenses are committed by the left. Which indicates (as if it were even a question at this point), that what’s motivating Obama is not a genuine commitment to civil public discourse. It’s narrow partisan interests.

This is what “hope and change” look like in practice.

 

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