Numbers not on GOP’s side

House Republicans have been dealt a tough hand on the "fiscal cliff." Here's why they should throw in their cards

Topics: Fiscal cliff, John Boehner, U.S. House of Representatives, Republicans, Taxes, Bush Tax Cuts, Polling, Editor's Picks,

Numbers not on GOP's sideHouse Speaker John Boehner (Credit: Reuters/Jason Reed)

With no compromise in sight on fiscal cliff negotiations, the White House said in no uncertain terms yesterday that they are prepared and willing to go over the metaphorical cliff if Republicans refuse to allow the Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans to expire. Politically, that’s a more appealing option for Democrats than Republicans, who have been boxed in. On one side, they have an emboldened president’s insistence that tax rates must go up, but on the other side they have their vows to the base, via Grover Norquist’s pledge, not to raise rates. Something’s got to to give.

Without a doubt, Republicans have been dealt the weaker hand here, as a look at poll numbers from the past few weeks demonstrates. “[We're in] a terrible position because by default the Democrats get what they want,” Oklahoma Republican Rep. James Langford told NPR. And if there were ever a time in John Boehner’s tenure as House speaker to concede big, now is it. Rank-and-file members seem to have recognized the bind they’re in and are ready to back Boehner, even if he cuts a deal they’re not thrilled with. Here’s the story, in numbers:

53 percent: President Obama’s approval rating, which shot up after the election to a three-year high, according to a new Quinnipiac poll. “President Obama hasn’t had a score this good since his 52 – 40 percent approval rating May 5, 2011, right after the death of Osama bin Laden,” pollster Peter Brown said.

18 percent: Congress’ current approval rating, according to the latest Gallup poll.

Negative 36: Congressional Republicans leaders’ approval rating on their handling of the fiscal cliff negotiations, according to Gallup. Obama’s rating is positive 9 percentage points.

55: Percentage of Republicans who want leaders to compromise instead of “stick to principles.”

2-to-1: Margin of people who say GOP would get most of the blame if leaders can’t come to a compromise on the cliff and go over it. Just 27 percent would blame Obama.

1995, 1996, and 2011: Years when House Republicans faced off against Democratic presidents in similar battles and lost.

3: The number of new polls released Wednesday alone that show Americans strongly favor raising tax rates on income over $250,000 a year. Exit polls from the November election found 60 percent of Americans favor the increase.

85 percent: Number of Americans opposed to their representatives signing a “no-taxes” pledge like Grover Norquist’s. That include 77 percent of Republicans. Just 10 percent favor the idea.

7 percent: The margin by which Americans favor increasing the rate at which capital gains get taxed.

54.3 million vs. 53.8 million: The aggregate number of votes each party got in congressional elections. Despite losing more races, Democrats got more votes overall than Republicans in the House.

10: The percentage point swing in which party Americans think is better capable of managing the deficit between 2010 and now. Two years ago, Americans gave Republicans the edge by 7 points, now they favor Democrats by 3 points.

2.5: The percentage of actual small businesses that would be hit by rates going up on income over $250,000. Republicans say protecting small businesses in the main reason they oppose raising rates on the wealthy.

237: Number of the country’s wealthiest 400 people who count as “small business owners” under the broad definition Republicans use. Obama and Mitt Romney would both count.

At least 9: The number of Republican lawmakers who have broken with their party and said publicly that they’re OK with tax rates on the wealthy going up. In the Senate, Sens. Tom Coburn, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins have all endorsed the idea, while Rep. Tom Cole has been joined by at least four fellow colleagues.

“A few dozen”: House Republicans who are privately “willing to discuss raising rates for top earners,” according to Bloomberg. There are several in the Senate moving in that direction too as new defectors emerge almost every day.

0: The number of Democrats who have broken with Obama’s pledge to raise rates on the wealthy.

Alex Seitz-Wald

Alex Seitz-Wald is Salon's political reporter. Email him at, and follow him on Twitter @aseitzwald.

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