In the fierce headline debate over the so-called fiscal cliff, our newly re-elected president argues that “a majority of Americans agree with (his) approach.” That approach, according to the president, is “to combine spending cuts with revenue — and that means asking the wealthiest Americans to pay a little more in taxes.”
Well, that’s not exactly what the exit polls said.
To the question “Should taxes be raised to help cut the budget deficit?” only 33 percent answered “yes,” while 63 percent responded “no.” Isn’t that interesting? But nobody’s talking about this exit-poll nugget.
Now, it is true that when the question is asked only about income-tax rates, 13 percent are OK with an increase for all, 47 percent want an increase only on incomes over $250,000, and 35 percent don’t want increases for anyone. That’s not so surprising. Most people make less than $250,000 a year and would therefore say, “Well, heck, just tax the rich people.”
But even on that point, the margin is only 37 to 45. It’s below 50 percent and not a massive mandate. And when you combine that with the earlier question, where nearly two-thirds don’t want to raise taxes at all, you have to ask whether the country isn’t a whole lot more divided on these and other questions than President Obama would have us believe.
This is why House Speaker John Boehner’s tax-reform idea is so good. He’s saying don’t raise top-end tax rates, because doing so would damage economic growth and investment incentives. That’s exactly what you don’t want in a weak 2 percent economy.
Instead, Boehner is proposing a compromise with the president, one that would limit various tax loopholes and deductions both for individuals and corporations, providing more revenue at the same low tax rates. The wealthy would pay more revenues. That’s the GOP concession. But it’s a pro-growth position and a sensible one. It finds common ground on the revenue question without damaging the economy. And if a deal is made before year-end, it could open the door to a much larger agreement on tax, spending and entitlement reform in 2013.
The stock market sure wants a deal that won’t crush the economy. Shares fell more than 400 points in the first two post-election days. I think of it as stock market vigilantes hammering Washington.
But I think there’s an even deeper economic point here. After losing the presidential election, what will Republicans stand for?
On the question of Hispanic immigration, the GOP has to rediscover its soul. It has to return to the party of Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp, which is inclusive and full of opportunities for everybody. Worker ID cards and a path to citizenship must be included in the Republican thinking. Otherwise, they’re not going to win another presidential election in my lifetime.
Get this: A whopping 65 percent of exit-poll respondents believe illegal immigrants working in the U.S. should be offered a chance to apply for legal status. Only 28 percent favor deportation. Can the Republican Party get that through its thick skull?
But on the economy in general, the GOP mustn’t go wobbly. It should stick with its free-market economic principles and push to be the party of conservative reform on taxes, spending, entitlements and various other pro-market solutions.
Yes, Mitt Romney lost. But that may have more to do with voters still blaming George W. Bush. By 53 to 38, voters still blame Bush for our economic woes. At least Romney gained a split on handling the economy, 49 to 48 over Obama, in the exits. Romney also had a slight lead on the budget deficit, and the two were about even on unemployment. I call this free-enterprise progress. So at least Romney brought the numbers back to even.
Over time, if the GOP remains the party of free markets, private enterprise, individual initiative and rewarding success, it will triumph over a Democratic Party that favors greater government welfare dependency and income redistribution, and mocks the benefits of successful business.
The past election did not solve this debate. And though he lost, I think Romney helped improve the GOP’s economic credibility. But the battle will still be fought.
Again, I say, Republicans must not go wobbly on economic freedom.