The president campaigned on ending the Bush tax cuts and won. House Republicans may not have gotten the message
John Boehner waited until the afternoon after to speak publicly about the election, and his words conveyed one basic message: Nothing has changed.
The House speaker offered his congratulations to Barack Obama and Joe Biden and expressed his desire to work productively with them. This wasn’t anything new. Americans like to hear their leaders talk about reaching across party lines to solve pressing problems, and Boehner has certainly paid his share of lip service to the idea of bipartisanship these last few years. This has always broken down, though, when the details have come into focus, which was the case once again Wednesday afternoon.
Now that the election is over, the political world’s attention is shifting to the fiscal “cliff,” a catchy term that’s a misnomer in that it suggests a sudden, catastrophic outcome if no deal is reached before scheduled tax hikes and spending cuts go into effect at the end of the year. In fact, as economist Chad Stone has argued, the cliff is really more of a slope, with the expiration of lower payroll tax rates and the Bush tax cuts and the implementation of Pentagon cuts set to gradually take effect as next year unfolds.
This is an important point, because it puts Boehner’s side at a negotiating disadvantage. For more than two decades, a bottom-line concern for the Republican Party has been opposing any and all tax rate increases, particularly for upper-income “job creators.” Not since 1990 has a single Republican member of the House or Senate voted to raise income tax rates, and Republicans spent the run-up to this week’s election vowing to keep all of the Bush rates in effect going forward. Had Mitt Romney won, they would have been able to keep this pledge, but in defeat they have no official power to do so. No matter what Republicans say or do over the next two months, all of the Bush tax cuts will go away if Democrats simply do nothing.
So the name of the game for the GOP is to create public pressure that will compel Democrats to cut some kind of deal that spares wealthy taxpayers and averts the Defense cuts that most Republicans don’t want. The problem is that Obama was just reelected after campaigning on ending the Bush rates on income over $250,000. What was striking about Bohener’s comments on Wednesday was his unwillingness to acknowledge this.
“We aren’t seeking to impose our will on the president,” he said, “we’re asking him to make good on his ‘balanced’ approach. A ‘balanced’ approach isn’t balanced if it means higher tax rates on the small businesses that are key to getting our economy moving again and keeping it moving.”
Translated, this means that Republicans aren’t changing their posture at all. Boehner stressed that he and his fellow Republicans are open to a deal that includes new revenue, but this doesn’t quite mean what it sounds like. As the above comment indicates, the GOP remains as opposed as ever to rate hikes – especially on the wealthy, which is whom the speaker was referring to when he talked about protecting small businesses. What Boehner was endorsing was the basic tax reform framework that Romney just campaigned on and that some congressional Republicans put forward during last year’s debt ceiling drama. Their idea is to cut rates for everyone (and the wealthy especially) and then to “broaden” the tax base by closing some loopholes and ending or capping deductions. Pat Toomey, one of the most conservative Republicans in the Senate, floated this idea last year and a bipartisan group of senators spent this year trying to create a compromise around this framework.
Those discussions were derailed last month by New York’s Chuck Schumer, who declared that Democrats shouldn’t sign off on any deal that doesn’t include a return to the Clinton-era rates on the wealthy. From a Democratic standpoint, Schumer’s stance makes sense, especially in light of this week’s election. Obama can claim a mandate to raise rates on the wealthy, and he has the negotiating leverage to insist on it. So why on earth would he and Democrats sign off on the kind of deal Boehner is suggesting?
The question is whether the White House shares Schumer’s resolve, or if the desire to strike a grand bargain with the opposition will win out. As Jonathan Chait noted, Obama will also face “a concerted persuasion campaign by the business lobby and the cries of the fiscal scolds” to cut the kind of deal Boehner seems open to. But if Republicans refuse to consider higher rates on the wealthy, Obama has the option of waiting them out until Jan. 1, when all of the Bush rates will automatically go away. Then, with a more liberal Senate arriving days later, he could push for a grand bargain much closer to the vision he just campaigned on.
We don’t know yet if Obama will go this route. But as Boehner made clear yesterday, it’s probably his only option if he’s going to fulfill a promise he’s now made in two national campaigns to get rid of the Bush tax cuts for the rich.
Steve Kornacki writes about politics for Salon. Reach him by email at SKornacki@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @SteveKornacki More Steve Kornacki.
More Related Stories
- Limbaugh: No one willing to impeach the first black president
- Top White House aides knew about IRS probe but didn't tell Obama
- Gohmert: IRS would've "probably shot the Boston Tea Party participants"
- Oregon senator proposes appeal to Monsanto Protection Act
- Supreme Court to rule on prayer at government meetings
- Beltway scandal machine breaks, knows nothing about America
- Top GOP official: "Sometimes our party does not value" women "as much"
- Colorado Dems fight back against GOP's Voter ID measures
- Watchdogs: ABC "in danger of losing a lot of credibility" on Benghazi saga
- Father of gay high school student arrested for dating classmate speaks out
- IRS meltdown was long overdue
- Can a liberal wonk save the Senate?
- Arkansas treasurer charged with extortion
- Corporate greed is poisoning America -- literally
- The new geography of poverty
- Barack Obama: Incidental black man?
- Obama to all-male university graduates: Be the best husband to "your boyfriend or partner"
- Big Soda SNAP-ing up billions off government programs
- The truth in Kanye's anti-prison rap
- Tea Party Patriots push nationwide anti-IRS rallies
- GOP attorney general candidate tried to force women to report miscarriages to police
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11
Alex Pareene surveys the burgeoning and bloated world of political news and opinion and explains the day's most essential story in Opening Shot, posted by 8:30 a.m. each weekday. Bookmark this page; follow @pareene on Twitter.