Plan B from outer space

House Speaker John Boehner pulled his controversial “Plan B” bill – which would have given the Democrats their much-desired tax increase on literal millionaires, but not much else – from the floor without a vote on Thursday night.  The GOP leadership made a last-ditch push to get the votes it needed, but the effort failed.

The House then trudged home for the holidays, leaving the ball firmly in the court of the Democrat-controlled Senate – you know, the crew that ignored their Constitutional duty to merely pass a budget for the titanic federal government, for the past four years.  The stock market peered over the edge of the rapidly approaching “fiscal cliff” and promptly tumbled hundreds of points.

On the other hand, the House Republicans did manage to narrowly pass a bill that would disable the automatic “sequestration” spending cuts… which, if it were fully enacted, would erase the last vestiges of the so-called Budget Control Act of 2011.  After years of wrangling, the 2011 budget drama would have ended up essentially where Barack Obama wanted it: trillions more in irresponsible spending, with no “budget control’ to speak of.  Our children will spit the phrase “Budget Control Act” as a bitter curse.

The failure of Plan B has been viewed by many observers as a devastating, perhaps even fatal, blow to House Speaker John Boehner.  He ended up looking isolated, a man wandering the streets of Washington and muttering to himself about “deals” with no other participants.  Democrats gleefully excoriated him for “wasting America’s time” with his Plan B proposal, even though they’re the grand masters of wasting time with symbolic legislation and parliamentary maneuvers.  (Those of you wondering why this titanic federal government makes its “budget deals” in a blind panic during the last few days of Congress should cast your eyes at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who views the concept of “budgeting” as an annoying impediment to racking up debt and buying votes.)

Conservative Republicans, meanwhile, castigated Boehner for pushing a bill that would have amounted to a negotiated surrender of conservative principles, with a smaller group of American pockets getting picked by their ravenous government, but precious little extracted from the Left in exchange.  Boehner didn’t seem to understand the symbolic nature of this surrender, which President Obama spent the week portraying as a Republican confession of guilt on behalf of their putative Evil Rich “friends.”  A nation foolish enough to re-elect Barack Obama wasn’t about to bust out its calculators to prove that the notion of pinning the blame for Obama’s gigantic deficits on greedy taxpayers who refuse to pay their “fair share” is gibbering lunacy.  All that matters is that Boehner “conceded that income tax rates should go up,” as Obama put it… except “right now he only wants to have them go up for millionaires.  If you’re making 900,000 (dollars), somehow he thinks that you can’t afford to pay a little more in taxes.  But the principle that rates are going to need to go up, he’s conceded.”

It’s Class Warfare for Dummies, and Boehner was willfully ignoring the evidence of the 2012 election if he thought American voters were game for something more sophisticated.  Boehner’s gambit was to “prove” that Democrats weren’t really interested in raising taxes on “millionaires,” by making them vote down a bill that would have done precisely that, while preserving low rates for everyone else.  But everyone already knows the Left doesn’t use the term “millionaire” to refer to people who make a million dollars.  They haven’t really been shy about pushing for tax hikes on couples and businesses that bring in $250k a year.  Boehner’s big plan was to force public admission of a deception that was already obvious to everyone.  Even it if had worked, it wouldn’t have been much of an achievement, and the political cost to Republicans from caving on their principles would have been far greater.

Boehner also seems to have underestimated the political cost of arranging votes that could easily be portrayed to the public as rhetorical game that wasted some of the final grains of sand in the fiscal-cliff hourglass.  On the other hand, his critics might be underestimating the value of working to pass legislation while Obama is still flitting about the country campaigning, and boasting of all the wonderful offers he might make, without actually making them.  “I have also said that I’m willing to identify some spending cuts that make sense,” Obama insisted during his most recent fiscal cliff press conference.  That’s nice, Mr. President.  Why don’t you go ahead and, you know, actually identify a few of them, instead of bragging about your willingness to think about considering the possibility of pondering the vague notion of a spending cut that might conceivably, possibly, hypothetically make sense, if the stars are properly aligned?

Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), who was purged from the House Budget Committee for refusing to be a “team player’ for a team that was about to kick the ball through its own goalposts, celebrated the defeat of Plan B.  “Republicans should not be forced to vote for a ???show??? bill that asks us to compromise on our principles,” he declared.  “For the last two years, the agenda has been 1) to end job-killing tax hikes and 2) to foster economic growth for revenue; ???Plan B??? abandons those goals ??? and our convictions right alongside them.  For the last two years, ???the job creator??? has been a priority; ???Plan B??? kicks him to the curb.  And, for the last two years ??? particularly in the last two weeks ??? we have been told that the problem is too much spending, not too much revenue; Plan B neglects our obligation to cut.”

Huelskamp congratulated the conservative Republicans who refused to be intimidated into going along with the deal.  Now we’ll find out if Speaker Boehner becomes stronger, or weaker, from the knowledge that such a caucus marches behind him.  The rest of us can marvel at how far the “fiscal cliff” debate has drifted into outer space, and not just the “Plan B” part.  Obama and the Democrats are battling over symbolism, too.  We’re talking about $1 trillion and $2 trillion reductions – much of it in the form of paper-thin promises to be kept in the “out years” – to an $8 or $10 trillion ten-year deficit, under the most optimistic projections, which will pile on top of the $6 trillion Obama already ran up, which is resting atop the $10 trillion he inherited from the previous two and a half centuries.  But the battle that consumes Washington is which group of politicians or private citizens will make a ritual sacrifice to “prove” it’s all their fault?

They’re still shadow-boxing to prepare for a fist fight that will be conducted in free fall, after we fly over the edge of the real fiscal cliff that awaits a few years beyond the death or survival of the Bush tax rates.  And remember, we’re only having this discussion right now because greedy politicians couldn’t see their way to giving Americans some permanent tax relief during the Bush years.  Every effort to hold back the growth of the State is partial or temporary, and there is no serious talk of actually making it smaller.  That’s the core conservative – and core American – principle that Republicans should never compromise on, not when the utter collapse of this bankrupt system is only a few years away.