Colt: Make Obama travel path of broken glass
The Republican House leadership’s attempts to deal with the issue of the “fiscal cliff” leave one wondering whether the GOP has forgotten the lost art of legislative strategy–an art whose first rule is : “Don’t let your opponent achieve victory without making him crawl on a mile of broken glass first.”
Speaker John A. Boehner, an Ohio Republican, who was part of former Speaker Newton L. “Newt” Gingrich’s leadership team, not only failed to lay a path of broken glass for the President Barack Obama and the Democrats, by offering taxes increases that would raise scant revenue, but severely damage his party’s brand, he laid the road with a mile of roses.
Boehner’s tactics emboldened the president and his allies in the Congress who are waiting with bated breath for the eventual GOP cave on taxes, a cave the speaker his backbenchers refused to help me execute.
Q: How did we get in this position?
A: Mostly it was the shortsightedness decision by earlier Republican-led congresses, who never made the Bush tax cuts permanent because of bookkeeping games that allowed budget deficit scoring to credit revenue in out years as if the temporary taxes expired and that hypothetical revenue was coming to the Treasury.
Now, faced with a president obsessed with raising taxes — even in the middle of a recession —Boehner has no leverage in the “fiscal cliff” negotiations.
Or does he?
Could the GOP House leadership undertake a different strategy to help achieve a more tenable position? I believe the answer is undoubtedly yes — if they would re-learn the rules of the game.
In the mid-1970s, the Republican Party was in complete disarray. Watergate had taken its toll. Democrats swept into office by huge margins, where they held a super majority in the Senate and nearly 300 votes in the House. The conservative movement was decimated but within the Senate a rump group of conservative senators decided to fight back. They did not take to the microphones. They did not hold press conference. Rather, they used the rules of the institution to get Democrats and liberal Republicans to take dozens of “tough votes” on “killer” amendments to defeat a slew liberal legislation. Despite having only 39 Republicans, including RINOs like Jacob Javits (R.-N.Y.), they defeated a slew of liberal agenda items. Those roll call votes were the very issues used to defeat all those liberal senators in the 1980 Reagan landslide, including Javits, who lost in a GOP primary that year.
In other words, they made their opponents crawl over miles of glass. The lesson lost on the modern GOP.
Boehner has engaged in the series of one-on-one negotiations with the president while his members have been sitting ideally waiting for news of the coming capitulation.
A better strategy would have been to put them to work. The speaker could use his ability to schedule votes and committee hearings to being a series of bills to the floor that would drive a wedge between the president and his Democrat allies. Forcing a series of uncomfortable votes would ultimately create back pressure on the President from members of his own party.
What kind of votes?
How about forcing members to decide whether the president’s ObamaCare tax hikes would be applicable to the middle class?
What about whether to defund the IRS’ plan to hire 16,000 new agents to enforce ObamaCare? We know a number of Democrats, who voted for ObamaCare have called for a delay in implementation of the ObamaCare tax on medical devices. What about a vote on the delay? Then, one on repealing the tax? Then, an amendment on the tax repeal to codify the president’s promise that Obamacare would not mean federal support of abortions.
Forcing House Democrats to take these roll call votes, and others, would create back pressure on the president to cut a deal, then get out of town.
In the end, Boehner’s “Plan B” was an offer to Republicans the option of raising taxes in order to “save” the middle class from a tax hike. This position will be seen as capitulation by the grassroots. Democrats would get their victory, at the same time as the speaker—but, he would have been the one crawling through broken glass.
Think about it. If Boehner had “won,” Obama will get his tax increase and Republican candidates would be denied a series of votes to use in the 2014 elections.
Proper legislative strategy recognizes that pain ultimately creates gain. It’s a lesson that the GOP needs to relearn — and fast.