So there are two pieces of news out today about the Republican response to the president’s so-far-very-successful maneuvers on the big fiscal issues. The first is a formal counter-offer from the House GOP leadership (with, significantly, Eric Cantor’s and Paul Ryan’s names joining that of John Boehner). It specifically calls for $800 billion in new revenues (close to what Boehner put on the table in his repudiated 2011 debt limit deal), but without rate increases. And it bites the bullet somewhat on spending by calling for a 2-year increase in the Medicare eligibiity age and a government-wide adjustment in how cost of living adjustments are calculated.
You could read this as Republicans deciding to get more specific on “entitlement reform” than on taxes (it’s extremely unlikely that you can come up with $800 billion in “loopholes” to close without hitting the middle class), or simply choosing the least inflammatory ways to reduce entitlement spending. Or–and this is my personal take at the moment–it could just be an offer meant to be refused that just gets the GOP out of the immediate problem it had with appearing unwilling to put anything on the table.
Arriving just before the “counter-offer” were a host of less formal reports that Republicans have a fallback strategy of letting an extension of the Bush tax cuts for taxable income under 250k pass without their votes, and then fighting Democrats tooth and nail after the beginning of the new year on the debt limit increase or indeed, anything else Obama wants.
I share Jonathan Chait’s puzzlement over this supposed strategy:
[Y]eah, Republicans would still have things to fight over. Obama is going to want measures to reduce unemployment. Republicans can dangle those. Obama is also going to want to not destroy the credit rating of the U.S. government for no good reason, and Republicans will threaten to do that, though it’s not clear that Obama is going to submit to another blackmailing on this.
But Republicans will also need Obama to sign a law canceling out the huge defense spending cuts scheduled for next year. If Obama is starting out with a trillion in higher revenue in his pocket (through expiration of the Bush tax cuts on the rich), and the extension of the middle-class tax cuts have largely taken the threat of a recession off the table, then he’ll still be negotiating from a position of strength. He’ll be able to offer Republicans cuts to entitlement programs plus defense spending increases in return for modest revenue increases, which don’t have to involve rate hikes, just to get to his own budget proposal.
Chait’s hunch is that Republicans are more preoccupied now with the optics of “not surrendering” on big fiscal votes than they are with actually imposing their priorities on Obama and the country. In other words, both maneuvers may be aimed at cutting losses without provoking an overt conservative backlash, and keeping–as Grover Norquist has suggested–their “fingerprints off the murder weapon” of any deal that can be described as betraying the sacrosanct “conservative principles.”
If that’s all true, it’s a strange way of exercising what Republicans claim is their co-responsibility for solving the nation’s fiscal problems after a “status quo election.” One might even reach the conclusion they lost.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, December 3, 2012
The House GOP’s initial decision to reject the extension of the payroll tax cut was a bone-headed move. Indeed, it was impressively masochistic in the way it brazenly violated not only public opinion, but also the will of Republicans in the Senate, the vast majority of whom voted for the bill. But while Congressional Republicans were violating all manner of political common sense, that’s not to say that they weren’t following any sort of political logic at all. It just happens to be a logic of a particularly twisted sort.
One of the dominant factors motivating the decisions of rank-and-file right-wing House Republicans—and not just freshmen—is their lack of trust in Speaker John Boehner. They like him, but they just don’t believe he’s a dependable defender of their interests and beliefs. Those suspicions aren’t entirely groundless. Yes, Boehner has gone out of his way to cultivate the most conservative members of his caucus—every time he has hit an impasse, his first move is to the right, to accommodate them, not to the middle to replace some of them with willing Democrats. But the Speaker has also shown a penchant for compromise that right-wing House members can’t abide.
The first negotiation he conducted with President Obama was over the fiscal 2011 Continuing Resolution, which he billed as a sweeping reduction in spending with nearly $40 billion cut from the year’s collective appropriations. But it turned out in the cold light of day to be something else entirely, with only a fraction of a fraction of the cuts occurring in the remainder of that fiscal year. Next came the Speaker’s negotiations with Obama over a “grand bargain” on deficit reduction as the debt limit approached. No matter that Boehner extracted a range of concessions from the president, including cuts in discretionary spending and on Medicare—the package included a tax increase which conservative Congressmen deemed unacceptable. So when the Speaker appeared to again sign onto a deal laden with compromise—this time over the payroll tax cut that extended it for only two months, while including the main concession conservatives had demanded, action on the Keystone pipeline—those conservatives noisily rebelled.
Boehner’s trust gap is exacerbated by the fact that the rest of the GOP House leadership has been undermining his credibility as a negotiator. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor noisily dropped out of the debt limit negotiations the minute the tax issue was raised, saying it was above his pay grade and had to be carried out by the Speaker and the President—only to immediately disavow the agreement that Boehner and Obama reached. On the payroll tax negotiation, Boehner had no choice but to cave to aggrieved Tea Party members, lest he risk again having Cantor abandon him, leaving him exposed to right-wing attacks.
Ultimately, the root of the problem may lie in the stark lessons that the Republicans elected to Congress in 2010 seem to have drawn from an earlier cohort of conservative Congressmen—those that Newt Gingrich lead into the majority in 1994. Today’s Tea Partiers recognize that they share a similar governing philosophy with their forebears, but they believe almost uniformly that the Gingrichites sold out too quickly, blinking unnecessarily when the political heat got turned up. The conclusion many have drawn is that Gingrich made a huge mistake when he gave in after the disastrous government shutdown at the end of 1995—if Republicans had held out, lashed themselves to the collective mast and weathered the storm of public disapproval, Clinton would have caved and they would have succeeded at rolling back the welfare state.
There is, of course, zero evidence for this thesis, but that doesn’t matter. Some of this group will come back to DC in January believing that Boehner and sellouts like Mitch McConnell and John McCain have just repeated the error of 1995. That will make John Boehner’s task even more difficult as he moves to negotiate a new deal on the year-long extension of the payroll tax cut, and will compound his difficulties as he considers other key decisions, including the looming expiration of the Bush tax cuts. For Boehner, the nightmare will not only continue, but deepen.
By: Norman Ornstein, Roll Call December 24, 2011