According to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll, 73 percent of Democrats and 63 percent of independents — and even 39 percent of Republicans — now favor raising taxes on those making $250,000 or more a year. Should the GOP give the people want they want?
As it is, Republicans seem to be engaged in an unwinnable scrum with Barack Obama, a man chasing the gold-plated Holy Grail of hiking top marginal tax rates on the rich and small businesses — bringing in, according to the Congressional Budget Office, a few days’ worth of revenue. Concede the Bush-era tax rate (though you wonder what the president is going to talk about for the next four years) and move past the cliff.
So says Tom Cole, Republican congressman from Oklahoma. “Some people think that’s our leverage in the debate,” he told fellow members according to Politico. “It’s the Democrats’ leverage in the debate.” Cole went on: “I think we ought to take the 98 percent deal right now. It doesn’t mean I agree with raising the top two. I don’t.” House Speaker John Boehner quickly shut down this scandalous talk, but really, other options might even be more distasteful.
There is no chance of a “balanced approach” on debt when you have no leverage. If these Republicans, seemingly unprepared for political warfare at this level, lose a game of fiscal cliff chicken, they will take the blame for across-the-board tax hikes. Obama won’t be held culpable for holding the economy hostage over some piddling revenue from the rich. He won’t be blamed for the ensuing recession. The media will be too busy investigating obstructionism and applauding the president’s gleaming new tax plan.
Having already largely conceded that taxes will be raised, a wide-ranging bipartisan deal on debt made under duress has no upside for Republicans — either as policy or politics. It would entail surrendering genuine reform on entitlements, which is worse than a tax increase. Obama, Harry Reid and Dick Durbin have all indicated that Social Security reform should not be part of any fiscal cliff deal. Durbin even falsely claimed that Social Security does “not add one penny to the debt.”
Moreover, even if a watered-down bipartisan “solution” was struck, Democrats would then be able to use Republicans as human shields against any blowback, while, simultaneously, the president would be taking full credit for enacting a middle-class tax cut he had nothing to do with.
The American people? They’ll still be staring at a dangerous debt crisis.
Clearing the deck of one of the most effective political distractions ever concocted, the Bush-era tax rate, might allow the GOP to recalibrate a debate they’ve been losing for four years.
This week the president said, “Our ultimate goal is an agreement that gets our long-term deficit under control in a way that is fair and balanced.” A few years before, when he promised to cut the deficit in half, Obama claimed that “this will not be easy. It will require us to make difficult decisions and face challenges we’ve long neglected.”
So what are these hard decisions?
Republicans have already offered at least two detailed plans. One from Sen. Pat Toomey (which features $1.2 trillion in new tax revenues and tax reform that cuts marginal tax rates by 20 percent for every tax bracket) and another one more recently from Sen. Bob Corker (which offers some reforms on Social Security, new revenue and a cap on itemized deductions after $50,000.) Democrats? They’ve balked on spending cuts. Balked on entitlement reform. What’s left? A value added tax? A carbon tax? What’s left after the rich pay their “fair share”?
Republicans can have a fight over tax and entitlement reform in the near future. But not if they surrender on those issues today.