Commentary Magazine


Topic: Plan B

Does Israel Have a Plan B?

Last week, I wrote about Israel’s lack of attractive options now that Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative has collapsed in the wake of the Fatah-Hamas unity agreement. Among the possible options being floated is the one that Michael Oren, Israel’s immediate past ambassador to the U.S. calls “Plan B,” which advocates for Israel to attempt to unilaterally determine its borders. In that piece, I said that Oren’s idea involved “a withdrawal to the security fence that would remove some settlements and make it clear that the settlement blocs and Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem will forever be part of Israel.” He has written me to say that this is untrue and asserts that his idea specifically rejects a retreat to the fence and instead says:

At this stage, Plan B is about principles, not specific borders. Maximum security capabilities for Israel. Maximum number of Israelis within Israel. And maximum degree of international–especially American—backing.

I’m happy to correct the record on this point. However, while I was wrong to specifically tie his Plan B to the fence, his eschewal of specifics makes it easy to imagine that any such unilateral move is likely to come pretty close to the current position of the fence in much of the West Bank. Yet even if we leave the fence out of the discussion, I’m afraid I can’t help being skeptical about the scheme. Oren—a brilliant historian and COMMENTARY contributor who ably represented Israel in Washington for four years—believes that it is in Israel’s interest to withdraw settlements, though not the Israel Defense Forces, from parts of the West Bank. He thinks that doing so will mean that the definition of Israel’s borders will be set by Israelis rather than being held hostage to the whims of a Palestinian leadership that seems incapable of making peace. While this is not as reckless as Ariel Sharon’s bold gamble for peace in which he pulled every last soldier, settlement, and Jew out of Gaza in 2005, it would still be a mistake.

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Last week, I wrote about Israel’s lack of attractive options now that Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative has collapsed in the wake of the Fatah-Hamas unity agreement. Among the possible options being floated is the one that Michael Oren, Israel’s immediate past ambassador to the U.S. calls “Plan B,” which advocates for Israel to attempt to unilaterally determine its borders. In that piece, I said that Oren’s idea involved “a withdrawal to the security fence that would remove some settlements and make it clear that the settlement blocs and Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem will forever be part of Israel.” He has written me to say that this is untrue and asserts that his idea specifically rejects a retreat to the fence and instead says:

At this stage, Plan B is about principles, not specific borders. Maximum security capabilities for Israel. Maximum number of Israelis within Israel. And maximum degree of international–especially American—backing.

I’m happy to correct the record on this point. However, while I was wrong to specifically tie his Plan B to the fence, his eschewal of specifics makes it easy to imagine that any such unilateral move is likely to come pretty close to the current position of the fence in much of the West Bank. Yet even if we leave the fence out of the discussion, I’m afraid I can’t help being skeptical about the scheme. Oren—a brilliant historian and COMMENTARY contributor who ably represented Israel in Washington for four years—believes that it is in Israel’s interest to withdraw settlements, though not the Israel Defense Forces, from parts of the West Bank. He thinks that doing so will mean that the definition of Israel’s borders will be set by Israelis rather than being held hostage to the whims of a Palestinian leadership that seems incapable of making peace. While this is not as reckless as Ariel Sharon’s bold gamble for peace in which he pulled every last soldier, settlement, and Jew out of Gaza in 2005, it would still be a mistake.

Oren is right that his Plan B has the virtue of being in the best traditions of Zionism. Rather than waiting for others to decide where Israel should be, the Jews would act on their own and then wait for the world to accept their actions. It would balance the justice of Israel’s rights to the land against the pragmatic need to separate from the Palestinians and to grant them the right of self-determination. And by leaving the IDF in place, it will not lead to a repeat of Sharon’s fiasco in which Gaza was transformed into a terrorist base/independent Palestinian state in all but name that rained down missiles on Israel with impunity.

But any move that will leave the Israeli army in the territories will do nothing to increase international or American support for the Jewish state. While the settlements are the focus of much of the anger about Israel’s presence in the West Bank, so long as the IDF patrols parts of the territories—even without the burden of protecting Jewish communities there—it will still be termed an occupation. And, as such, it will not diminish the fervor of those advocating the boycott of Israel. Nor will it even stop those who specifically advocate the boycott of products from settlements rather than all of Israel since few of those communities that will be abandoned are producing much that is exported.

Unfortunately, like all past Israeli territorial withdrawals it would be quickly forgotten and the focus of international pressure would be on what was retained with no concern for past sacrifices. Both the Palestinian and the international position on the borders would be one that started with the assumption that the Palestinians would get whatever was left by Israel as part of Plan B. The bargaining would then be about how much of what Israel retained in Plan B, if anything at all.

Israel would be forced to go through the agony of uprooting tens of thousands of people from their homes with no upgrade in its security, its diplomatic position, or international support. The retreat would not be interpreted as a sign of moderation or a desire for peace that involved a painful parting from lands to which Jews have rights. Rather, the Jewish state’s critics and even some who call themselves its friends will see it as further proof that Israel had “stolen Palestinian land” and had decided to render some but not all of the restitution that they should be forced to make. It would merely increase pressure to force the removal of hundreds of thousands of Jews in the settlement blocs and Jerusalem that Oren rightly wishes to preserve as part of Israel.

Oren is right that Israel can’t, as he told the Times of Israel back in February, “outsource our fundamental destiny to Palestinian decision making.” He’s also right that there is no perfect solution to Israel’s problems. As long as the Palestinians define their national identity more in terms of rejecting Zionism rather than building their own state, the conflict will not end. Waiting for the sea change in the political culture of the Palestinians that will make peace possible is difficult. But this plan, like every other solution that seeks to cut the Gordian knot of Middle East peace without Palestinian acceptance of a Jewish state, will worsen Israel’s position rather than strengthen it.

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The Dangers of Unrestricted Plan B Access

The battle over universal access to the sale of emergency contraception, known as “Plan B” or the “morning after pill” has, it seems, reached a conclusion. In April the FDA announced that it was lowering the minimum age for over-the-counter sales of the drug to 15 from 17, and today the White House announced it was withdrawing its previous opposition to the ruling, and removing all opposition to age restrictions in general, making it possible for any girl, of any age, to obtain the drug. Previously President Obama said he was “bothered by the idea of 10- or 11-year-old girls buying the drugs as easily as ‘bubble gum or batteries.'” President Obama went from being uncomfortable with 15-year-olds obtaining the pill to comfortable with 11-year-olds doing so in two short months. Like other “evolutions” by the Obama White House, this was likely spurred on by pressure from his far-left base, in this case “reproductive rights” advocates who see any attempt to regulate birth control or abortion as an affront. The Obama administration has reversed its opposition to over-the-counter sales of the pill, now putting it within reach of any consumer, regardless of age. 

The message this sends to children and parents alike is troubling, to say the least. In a world where a 26-year-old is young enough to still qualify as a child on their parent’s health insurance, a child of 10 years of age can walk into any neighborhood drug store and purchase a massive dose of hormones with no oversight or supervision, not from their parents and not from medical professionals. As any parent will tell you, they are deluged with permission slips–to ride the bus, to participate in after-school activities, for the school nurse to administer Tylenol or prescription drugs. In this culture of treating young adults as toddlers, which the president and his fellow liberals do nothing but perpetuate, the FDA and White House’s decision is glaringly hypocritical. A child cannot decide to take a pain reliever for a headache while on the school campus, but they can have full access to a powerful drug that might have an impact on their development.

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The battle over universal access to the sale of emergency contraception, known as “Plan B” or the “morning after pill” has, it seems, reached a conclusion. In April the FDA announced that it was lowering the minimum age for over-the-counter sales of the drug to 15 from 17, and today the White House announced it was withdrawing its previous opposition to the ruling, and removing all opposition to age restrictions in general, making it possible for any girl, of any age, to obtain the drug. Previously President Obama said he was “bothered by the idea of 10- or 11-year-old girls buying the drugs as easily as ‘bubble gum or batteries.'” President Obama went from being uncomfortable with 15-year-olds obtaining the pill to comfortable with 11-year-olds doing so in two short months. Like other “evolutions” by the Obama White House, this was likely spurred on by pressure from his far-left base, in this case “reproductive rights” advocates who see any attempt to regulate birth control or abortion as an affront. The Obama administration has reversed its opposition to over-the-counter sales of the pill, now putting it within reach of any consumer, regardless of age. 

The message this sends to children and parents alike is troubling, to say the least. In a world where a 26-year-old is young enough to still qualify as a child on their parent’s health insurance, a child of 10 years of age can walk into any neighborhood drug store and purchase a massive dose of hormones with no oversight or supervision, not from their parents and not from medical professionals. As any parent will tell you, they are deluged with permission slips–to ride the bus, to participate in after-school activities, for the school nurse to administer Tylenol or prescription drugs. In this culture of treating young adults as toddlers, which the president and his fellow liberals do nothing but perpetuate, the FDA and White House’s decision is glaringly hypocritical. A child cannot decide to take a pain reliever for a headache while on the school campus, but they can have full access to a powerful drug that might have an impact on their development.

Previously, any teen under the age of 17 had to get a prescription to obtain the drug, which, taken up to 72 hours after intercourse, greatly lowers the likelihood of unwanted pregnancy. The reasoning behind the previous ruling was the hope that medical professionals would ensure that 14-year olds having intercourse were doing so with due care and legally (i.e. not as victims of statutory or forcible rape). According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI), a left-leaning policy organization with strong ties with Planned Parenthood:

Concerns about statutory rape are particularly acute in regard to the youngest adolescents. Although relatively small proportions of 13-14-year-olds have had intercourse, those who become sexually active at an early age are especially likely to have experienced coercive sex: Seventy-four percent of women who had intercourse before age 14 and 60% of those who had sex before age 15 report having had a forced sexual experience. As policymakers and the public have become increasingly aware that the sexual partners of minor adolescent women are often not adolescents themselves but men 3-6 years older, concern has grown that protective measures, in the form of increasing enforcement of statutory rape laws, are necessary to guard these young women from abuse and exploitation.

With the Obama administration’s decision to provide access to these young women, one outside barrier between a child and victimization has disappeared. 

How likely is it that a young girl would be able to secretly make an appointment with her family doctor in order to obtain more reliable forms of birth control? If Plan B is the only accessible form, how many young girls will start to use the hormone as their primary source of birth control? Does the FDA know how regularly taking large doses of Plan B (it’s called “emergency” contraception for a reason) in girls as young as 11 years of age will affect their biological development as they reach puberty? While the Obama administration was still against the ruling to allow unrestricted access to the drug, Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius said:

After careful consideration of the F.D.A. summary review, I have concluded that the data submitted by Teva [an Israeli pharmaceutical company that manufactures the drug] do not conclusively establish that Plan B One-Step should be made available over the counter for all girls of reproductive age.

Despite the fact that outside studies haven’t been conducted on the safety of the drug for girls as young as 10 and 11 by any agency besides the company most likely to profit from the drug going over-the-counter, the Obama White House has changed course after they themselves stated the need for independent review of the safety of these drugs for 10- and 11-year-old girls, 10 percent of whom can bear children.

The justification for this reversal seems to be the desire to prevent unwanted teen pregnancies. The argument is that if girls were required to gain their parents’ consent for using Plan B, fear of punishment or shame about becoming pregnant would prevent them from speaking about their problem. That would, we are told, make unwanted pregnancies and abortions more likely to happen. When the pill was first introduced onto the market, many claimed the frequency of abortion in the United States would plummet. Yet that has not been the case. In 2007 the Washington Times reported:

A review of 23 studies on EC “demonstrate convincingly that greater access [to the pills] increases use,” Dr. Elizabeth G. Raymond, James Trussell and Chelsea B. Polis said in their article in this month’s issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

But predictions that easier access to EC would produce “a direct, substantial impact … may have been overly optimistic,” they wrote, calling for more research “to explain this finding.”

“To date, no study has shown that increased access to this method reduces unintended pregnancy or abortion rates,” the authors concluded, adding that while some of the 23 studies taken individually have deficiencies, “the consistency of their primary findings is hard to ignore.”

The safety of sexual intercourse for minors, however, is a topic that has been widely studied. The risk of cervical cancer for women is higher for women who became sexually active before their 18th birthdays due to an increased risk of contracting the HPV virus. It is recommended that any woman, regardless of age, receive the Gardasil vaccine to prevent HPV before they become sexually active and that they receive regular exams every year after becoming sexually active. The likelihood is that 11-year-old girls are not aware of this and wouldn’t act on it even if they did. But if their parents are not aware of their sexual activity, how can these girls be protected? 

Given all of this information, which the Obama administration was aware of when it opposed unrestricted access just last week, the decision to reverse course and allow 10-year-old girls access to this medication is the wrong decision. While these ideologues claim to have the best interests of young girls in mind, you don’t have to be an opponent of abortion to understand they have instead made it more dangerous for young girls and women who need the protection of our society most. 

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America Edges Ever Closer to the Fiscal Cliff

Some thoughts on the Republicans pulling their Plan B tax bill from the House floor last night:

1. Speaker Boehner was embarrassed and is badly weakened. He may not be deposed since Majority Leader Eric Cantor and other key Republicans were by his side during negotiations, and they supported Plan B. Mr. Boehner is also generally well liked within his caucus. There’s no obvious person who could challenge him and win. And everyone knows the speaker was forced to play a bad hand. Still, this was a humiliation for Mr. Boehner. He may not recover from this vote of no confidence from his own members.   

2. It’s possible that a new deal emerges – but it would probably have to come from the Senate. And even if Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell were to find common ground – which is far from certain – a new plan would also need to pass in the House. And as last night showed, that simply may not happen.

3. House Republicans have now managed to put themselves into a situation in which if we do go over the “fiscal cliff,” early next year President Obama will propose tax cuts for somewhere around 98 percent of the American people. If House Republicans go along with Obama, then it may dawn on them that Plan B was a significantly better deal from their perspective, since it limited tax increases to those making a million dollars or more rather than whatever lower figure Obama will propose. 

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Some thoughts on the Republicans pulling their Plan B tax bill from the House floor last night:

1. Speaker Boehner was embarrassed and is badly weakened. He may not be deposed since Majority Leader Eric Cantor and other key Republicans were by his side during negotiations, and they supported Plan B. Mr. Boehner is also generally well liked within his caucus. There’s no obvious person who could challenge him and win. And everyone knows the speaker was forced to play a bad hand. Still, this was a humiliation for Mr. Boehner. He may not recover from this vote of no confidence from his own members.   

2. It’s possible that a new deal emerges – but it would probably have to come from the Senate. And even if Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell were to find common ground – which is far from certain – a new plan would also need to pass in the House. And as last night showed, that simply may not happen.

3. House Republicans have now managed to put themselves into a situation in which if we do go over the “fiscal cliff,” early next year President Obama will propose tax cuts for somewhere around 98 percent of the American people. If House Republicans go along with Obama, then it may dawn on them that Plan B was a significantly better deal from their perspective, since it limited tax increases to those making a million dollars or more rather than whatever lower figure Obama will propose. 

If House Republicans don’t go along with Obama, then they will vote to prevent tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people simply because tax cuts weren’t also given to the top income earners. I understand that Republicans will have supported tax cuts for 100 percent of the public rather than 98 percent. Still, the political effect of all this may well be that Barack Obama will have created a situation in which he’s viewed as the champion of tax cuts for the vast majority of Americans. That would be a stunning achievement by Obama and House Republicans, who could hardly have done more damage to themselves if they tried.

4. The results of this week – and especially if we go over the fiscal cliff – will be that the Republican Party will look increasingly extreme and adamantine. Even if you believe that characterization is completely or largely untrue and unfair, it exists, and conservatism has to take into account the world as it is.

Edmund Burke, in defining statesmanship, wrote, “We compensate, we reconcile, we balance. We are able to unite into one consistent whole the various anomalies and contending principles that are found in the minds and affairs of men.” That sensibility has been missing among some House Republicans, I think – many of whom seem to have convinced themselves that they made a stand on principle that will redound to their credit. They may be right, but count me skeptical. House conservatives got what they wanted, which is no deal and (perhaps) a trip over the fiscal cliff with their flag flying. If that happens, I suspect the GOP, conservatism, and the tax cutting cause will all suffer. Which may eventually underscore for them why prudence is such an important political virtue.

5. President Obama is far from blameless in all this. He never gave John Boehner enough in exchange for Boehner’s willingness to break with a decades-long GOP commitment not to raise tax rates. If Obama wanted to avoid going over the fiscal cliff, he once again showed that he is a fairly inept negotiator. If he does want to go over the fiscal cliff, he may become quite familiar with the axiom, “Be careful what you wish for.” Because as Bob Woodward put it, “This is the Obama era, it is [the president’s] economy. Speaker Boehner’s an important player and this is significant, but it is Obama’s job to lead and define — so if there re negative consequences here, particularly in the economy, it is going to be, ‘In the Obama era, things didn’t get fixed.’”

6. Quite apart from who deserves the most blame for where we are, there is something slightly depressing in terms of the failure to govern in a responsible and reasonable way. Our political system right now is not only unable to rise to the moment and confront the challenges we face; it seems to be badly broken and staggeringly incompetent. The lack of trust in, and growing cynicism toward, our governing institutions will only increase. And that is not a good thing for a self-governing republic.

In a terrific essay on the late, great James Q. Wilson, his former student John DiIulio, Jr. wrote, “During his last decade, Wilson worried more than he had previously about what, in the closing paragraph of his textbook [on American government], he described as ‘a decline in public confidence in those who manage…government. We expect more and more from government,’ [Wilson] observed, ‘but are less and less certain that we will get it, or get it in a form and at a cost that we find acceptable.’”

If Professor Wilson was alive today, I imagine his concerns would be even greater about the country he loved so much and so well. So should ours.

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The GOP Really Hits Bottom

Those Republicans who thought their party hit bottom on Election Day were wrong. Mitt Romney’s defeat was a blow, but the pitiful collapse of House Speaker John Boehner’s Plan B legislation on the budget showed that heading into his second term, President Obama’s opposition is so divided as to be rendered useless.

The importance of Boehner’s failure to keep his caucus relatively united, so as to strengthen his hand in negotiations to avoid having the nation go over the fiscal cliff, is not a minor story or one that will be soon forgotten in the 24/7 news cycle world. It is a signal to the Democrats that though they do not control the lower house of Congress—a not inconsiderable obstacle to President Obama’s hopes of implementing the liberal wish list of programs and legislation in his second term—neither do Boehner and the GOP leadership. That will not just make it easier for Obama to face down the Republicans in any confrontation. It leaves the Republicans prey to an ongoing dispiriting civil war between establishment types and Tea Partiers that will enhance the chances that the president will get more of what he wants in the next two years.

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Those Republicans who thought their party hit bottom on Election Day were wrong. Mitt Romney’s defeat was a blow, but the pitiful collapse of House Speaker John Boehner’s Plan B legislation on the budget showed that heading into his second term, President Obama’s opposition is so divided as to be rendered useless.

The importance of Boehner’s failure to keep his caucus relatively united, so as to strengthen his hand in negotiations to avoid having the nation go over the fiscal cliff, is not a minor story or one that will be soon forgotten in the 24/7 news cycle world. It is a signal to the Democrats that though they do not control the lower house of Congress—a not inconsiderable obstacle to President Obama’s hopes of implementing the liberal wish list of programs and legislation in his second term—neither do Boehner and the GOP leadership. That will not just make it easier for Obama to face down the Republicans in any confrontation. It leaves the Republicans prey to an ongoing dispiriting civil war between establishment types and Tea Partiers that will enhance the chances that the president will get more of what he wants in the next two years.

To state this fact is not to deliver a judgment that the objections to Plan B were either unprincipled or unsound economics. Boehner’s GOP critics are right when they continue to argue that Washington has a problem with spending, not taxes. Raising anyone’s taxes, even the millionaires that Boehner’s proposal targeted, won’t cure the deficit. Nor are they wrong to worry that the White House intends to renege on any promises to carry out the entitlement reform that is necessary to dealing with the problem at the heart of the country’s fiscal illness.

But in refusing even to give their leader their votes on behalf of what was nothing more than a negotiating ploy, they have created a situation where they have no effective leadership. Boehner must now crawl back to the negotiating table with Obama and accept an even less palatable compromise that will not have the support of most Republicans, or actually let the deadline expire. The latter would mean allowing taxes to rise on everyone in the country as well as the implementation of the sequestration process that will mean ruinous cuts in defense.

All this means that the Republicans will be heading into the New Year in an even weaker condition than they looked to be after losing the presidency, the Senate and having their House majority trimmed on Election Day. This sets them up for a lousy 2013 in which the president will have the whip hand over them throughout the coming months as he seeks to pass the next round of liberal legislation.

But as bad as this moment is for conservatives, it should be remembered that nothing in politics, even stinging election defeats and humiliating legislative debacles like the one they experienced last night, lasts forever. It is no accident that those Republicans expected to vie for the 2016 presidential nomination have been relatively quiet during the last weeks. Though Mitt Romney and now John Boehner have failed, there will be plenty of opportunities for people like Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio and others to shine during the next two years. There will also be many opportunities for the president to demonstrate the same poor judgment on both domestic and foreign issues that made his first term a lackluster affair. The GOP may have just hit bottom, but that also 

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If Plan B Failed, How is a Deal Possible?

The collapse of the House Republican leadership’s “Plan B” legislation this evening is being viewed first and foremost as a humiliating defeat for Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor. The proposal was supposed to be a clever tactic that would increase the pressure on President Obama and the Democrats since it would, at least theoretically, take the GOP off the hook for the country going over the fiscal cliff in the absence of a deal with the White House on spending and taxes. But Boehner didn’t have enough votes from his own caucus to back Plan B, even though it limited tax increases to those making over $1 million rather than the lower limits offered by the president in negotiations.

There are those who will argue that the collapse of Plan B will force Boehner back into negotiations with the president and create a situation where a grand budget deal would be possible. But the question that must be asked now is: if Boehner and Cantor could not whip up enough Republican votes for their own proposal, how is it possible that they could muster their support for an accord that would by definition be even less attractive to conservatives?

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The collapse of the House Republican leadership’s “Plan B” legislation this evening is being viewed first and foremost as a humiliating defeat for Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor. The proposal was supposed to be a clever tactic that would increase the pressure on President Obama and the Democrats since it would, at least theoretically, take the GOP off the hook for the country going over the fiscal cliff in the absence of a deal with the White House on spending and taxes. But Boehner didn’t have enough votes from his own caucus to back Plan B, even though it limited tax increases to those making over $1 million rather than the lower limits offered by the president in negotiations.

There are those who will argue that the collapse of Plan B will force Boehner back into negotiations with the president and create a situation where a grand budget deal would be possible. But the question that must be asked now is: if Boehner and Cantor could not whip up enough Republican votes for their own proposal, how is it possible that they could muster their support for an accord that would by definition be even less attractive to conservatives?

It is true that any deal struck between Boehner and Obama that would bridge the current gap between their positions on the budget would have considerable Democratic support and therefore enough votes to pass the House. But one has to ask how could Boehner’s leadership of the Republicans be sustained if on the most important piece of legislation before the Congress he relied more on Democrats than members of his own caucus?

It should be stipulated that the concerns voiced by members about Plan B are far from irrational. There is no reason to think a tax increase on anyone will boost the economy. Nor will soaking millionaires do much to cut the deficit. Nothing, other than the liberal ideology of the Democrats, would lead the country to raise taxes at a time when the economy is in such a fragile state.

But a failure to reach a deal with the White House would be a far greater catastrophe for the country than those tax hikes. Doing so would mean an across-the-board tax increase for everyone and mandate spending cuts on defense that would be ruinous.

Conservatives have a point when they say they were sent to Washington to stand up for their party’s principles, not to bow to liberal pressure. But it must also be understood that the people have spoken and, by electing a Republican House to govern alongside a Democrat Senate and president, have mandated that the two parties try to work together, no matter how much it bothers them.

Boehner seems to understand this, but the failure of his Plan B tactic demonstrates that such big picture thinking isn’t acceptable to the mindset of enough House Republicans to enable the speaker to prevail. That leaves him caught between allowing the country to go over the fiscal cliff—which would be blamed more on Republicans than the president—and a deal that most Republicans won’t buy. Either way, this is bad news for the speaker and the country’s fiscal health.

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Heading Over the Cliff With Plan B?

With the House Republican leadership sticking to its plans to push through a Plan B tax and spending bill today, it’s an open question as to whether House Speaker John Boehner is really bluffing about his proposal as the party’s final answer to the White House in the fiscal cliff negotiations. Considering that there is no chance that the Democrats will allow the GOP plan to pass in the Senate and that reportedly even the staffs of the two sides are not talking, right now it is entirely possible that the standoff will result in there being no deal in place prior to the Christmas holiday next week. Or is it?

There are many observers in Washington and around the nation who are convinced that Plan B is merely an elaborate bluff designed to smoke more concessions out of an administration that for all of the president’s bluster is as desperate to avoid the ruinous tax increases and spending cuts that a failure to make a deal will bring as any Republican. But considering the enormous difficulty that Boehner is having in lining up the 218 votes from his own caucus that he will need to pass his legislation, imagining him going back to Republicans in the next couple of weeks to ask for their support for what is certain to be an even more unpalatable compromise deal seems a stretch. That means that it is entirely possible that Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor mean what they say about putting off any further efforts to resolve the crisis until January. In other words, like it or not, both parties may actually be heading over the fiscal cliff with Plan B.

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With the House Republican leadership sticking to its plans to push through a Plan B tax and spending bill today, it’s an open question as to whether House Speaker John Boehner is really bluffing about his proposal as the party’s final answer to the White House in the fiscal cliff negotiations. Considering that there is no chance that the Democrats will allow the GOP plan to pass in the Senate and that reportedly even the staffs of the two sides are not talking, right now it is entirely possible that the standoff will result in there being no deal in place prior to the Christmas holiday next week. Or is it?

There are many observers in Washington and around the nation who are convinced that Plan B is merely an elaborate bluff designed to smoke more concessions out of an administration that for all of the president’s bluster is as desperate to avoid the ruinous tax increases and spending cuts that a failure to make a deal will bring as any Republican. But considering the enormous difficulty that Boehner is having in lining up the 218 votes from his own caucus that he will need to pass his legislation, imagining him going back to Republicans in the next couple of weeks to ask for their support for what is certain to be an even more unpalatable compromise deal seems a stretch. That means that it is entirely possible that Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor mean what they say about putting off any further efforts to resolve the crisis until January. In other words, like it or not, both parties may actually be heading over the fiscal cliff with Plan B.

All along it has been President Obama rather than Boehner who has sounded like the side most ready to go to the brink. With polls showing the public blaming Republicans for the impasse and a second term already won, the president appeared to believe that he had the whip hand in any negotiation. Indeed, up until the last week when he offered to raise taxes only on those making more than $400,000 rather than $250,000, Obama had showed no sign of being willing to budge. After that, most pundits assumed that there would be further movement from both sides that would create a deal that would be somewhere between $400,000 and the $1 million income mark that Boehner has offered. But if the speaker had come to believe that there would be no more concessions from a president who thought he could bludgeon his opponents by further grandstanding and delegitimization of their position, then perhaps he came to the conclusion that it was time for him to shut down the talks and make the White House sweat.

Republicans are aware that they will be blamed in the short term for allowing an across-the-board tax increase and the impact this will have on the economy. But they also understand that any hopes for a successful second term for the president hinge on a deal that might boost the chances of a genuine recovery for the nation rather than the anemic revival it has experienced under Obama. This may be emboldening Boehner to think that it is he, and not the man who was just re-elected president, who is in control of the talks.

In doing so, Boehner may have put the ball back into the Democrats’ court. But it’s not easy to see how the GOP leadership team will sell a deal in which the president came closer to their position if they’re having such a hard time putting across Plan B.

If the end result of all this maneuvering is that no deal will be reached, it must be said that this is a disaster for the country. Allowing taxes to rise for all taxpayers is not just wrong (indeed, Republican hardliners are right when they say that any increase on anyone, no matter how rich, isn’t going to help the economy or do much to balance the budget), it will harm the nation’s economic health. The defense cuts that will result from such a failure will also be ruinous for national security. But Boehner may be counting on President Obama being more fearful of this than a Republican Party that may think it has nothing left to lose after their November defeat. Unless the president jumps first in the next couple of days in this game of chicken the two are playing, the fiscal cliff doomsday scenario may come to pass.

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