Economy & Budget

Why does Boehner want to be ‘led’ off fiscal cliff?

Why does Boehner want to be 'led' off fiscal cliff?

Unless someone revised the Constitution when no one was looking, Congress’ job isn’t to surrender to the desires of the president, even a president with a mandate. In fact, if mandates matter, then this conservative congress – the second largest GOP majority since 1938 – has a job to do, as well. House Republicans might want to remember that when it comes to the “fiscal cliff.”

“We’re ready to be led, not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans,” claimed Speaker of the House John Boehner the day after the election. “We want you to lead — not as a liberal or a conservative, but as the president of the United States of America. We want you to succeed.”  House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy followed up, claiming that the “looming fiscal cliff presents an opportunity to put politics aside and address the major issues facing our country.”

Ready to be led? If politicians have a desire to put politics aside they should probably find another career. Politics is how we argue about policy and politicians are sent to Washington to represent the ideology and beliefs of their constituents – not be led.

Yes, the “fiscal cliff” – a large tax increase and spending cuts that are sure to put a dent into the brittle recovery – is an opportunity for Obama to try and raise taxes. His mandate, apparently. It’s what he promised repeatedly during the campaign. The president, in fact, blamed the recession, in part, on the institution of these tax cuts. So, on the fiscal cliff, extending those lower rates would amount to a broken promise before he’d even started his second term.

“Hopefully people will read those results and read them as a vote for cooperation and will come to the table,” David Axelrod told MSNBC about the election results. “And obviously everyone’s going to have to come with an open mind to these discussions. But, if the attitude is that nothing happened on Tuesday, that would be unfortunate.”

So, in other words, we’re open to cooperation if the other side does more of what we like.

Boehner, who says that the GOP would be open to tax increases if there were tethered to spending cuts, has reportedly told congressional Republicans that he supports “bridge” legislation to put off the automatic trigger on spending cuts and the tax hikes. Then, he would focus on a long-term solution in 2013 – when he has far less leverage.

Making a stand to reform tax policy might hurt Obama politically (which would be an excellent byproduct) but it would also stop bad policy. As David Camp, Ways and Means Committee Chairman, points out: “The problem with the President’s proposed tax hike is that while it may generate more revenue, it will also mean over 700,000 fewer jobs for American workers – that’s the equivalent of roughly every job created in the United States in the last 5 months.”

There is room for compromise. But surrendering Bush-era cuts for a nominal cut in future spending (and bit more camaraderie with Obama) is no compromise, at all, as it resets the baseline at a disadvantage and gives conservatives nothing tangible. It’s a mistake to concede that Democrats are engaged in real compromise simply by agreeing to cut any spending. Unless, of course, Democrats are arguing that they only want to raise taxes. Then, failing to extend Bush-era tax rates will not raise revenue significantly and there is no guarantee that Obama would spend any new revenue to deal with deficits, anyway. What Republicans would be left with is a terrible deal.

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