Monday, December 3, 2012

The Unbreakable Vow

As Fiscal Cliff negotiations move forward—which is to say, as Boehner, McConnell, and Obama take turns punching each other in the face—it is becoming clear that absurd fidelity to Grover Norquist's tax pledge remains central to Republican Congressmen. Today there are two narrative threads running through the news. In one, the GOP presented their own offer to solve the fiscal cliff. Boehner drafted a letter to Obama that included the following:
Notably, the new revenue in the Bowles plan would not be achieved through higher tax rates, which we continue to oppose and will not agree to in order to protect small businesses and our economy. Instead, new revenue would be generated through pro-growth tax reform that closes special-interest loopholes and deductions while lowering rates.
Shorter version: Read my lips: no new taxes. Another thread, however, has hinted that the GOP is secretly considering, as Talking Points Memo puts it, "surrendering on taxes" in a "Doomsday" plan. In this scenario:
The bill would come to the floor, and Republicans would vote ‘present’ to register their disapproval with letting the top marginal rates go up, allowing Democratic votes to carry it to passage. Having already cleared the Senate, the bill would be sent to the White House and signed into law. Over and done, middle class tax increases averted.
Brian Beutler, among others, has argued that the reason for Republicans to cave is to give themselves more leverage for battling the White House in the New Year. Dave Weigel thinks this plan "sounds brilliant" for Republicans. Jonathan Chait is less convinced, since Obama will still have plenty of leverage of his own in January.

Regardless, both plans maintain the primacy of the anti-tax pledge. In Boehner's "offer" to Obama it is straightforward enough although laughable as a proposal. In the "doomsday" plan, the voting dance Republicans are contemplating in order to appease Norquist is ridiculous. Chait explains the logic:
Interestingly, Republicans also appear preoccupied with avoiding the atmosphere of surrender. Karl reports that Republicans are considering having their members vote “present” on an extension of the middle-class tax cuts, thus allowing it to pass with Democratic votes. What is the difference? That way, they haven’t done anything that could be called a vote to raise taxes. Instead, they have stood aside and allowed Democrats to raise taxes.
Insanity. The point of a negotiated compromise is that flexibility (otherwise known as sacrifice) from both parties is required such that both parties can own the result. It's one thing to posture and take strong positions in the early rounds of sparring, but standing by and voting "present" to avoid taking responsibility for legislation is derelict. (This Columbia University professor calls it treasonous.) The anti-tax pledge and the rise of the Tea Party has the House Republicans and Boehner in fetters and, unless they find some hidden reserves of courage to break this orthodoxy, it will drive the nation over the cliff.

No comments:

Post a Comment