A common tactic used by someone who fears confrontation is to contrive an excuse for not battling his adversary at the present, while promising to deal harshly with him in the future. That’s how the GOP has operated with Obama in all of the budget battles over the past two years. It’s always ‘the next fight.’
There is an emerging consensus from some conservatives inside and outside of Congress that we have no leverage on the tax fight and are thus compelled to give in on the higher tax rates. To that end, they advocate voting present on an extension of the tax rates sans the highest two rates, so that the extension will go through for the middle class without having to own the tax increase on the higher brackets. However, they contend that our real leverage will come with the debt ceiling fight a month later. Then, they assert, the narrative will be all about spending cuts. No spending cuts from Obama; no debt ceiling increase, goes the rationale.
Honestly, I don’t disagree with the premise behind some of this. I’ve been saying for a long time that I would be willing to compromise on something if we would stand and fight on at least one front to force transformational change, such as free market entitlement reform, elimination of a number of discretionary departments, or a balanced budget amendment. I’ve also been saying for a long time that the debt ceiling fight will provide us with the biggest opportunity to force those changes.
The problem is that unicorns don’t fly. For the same reason why Boehner and the boys are scared to fight now; for the same reason they were scared to fight a dozen other times, including during the first debt ceiling fight in 2011, they will be just as scared in January. Nothing will change. It is incredible how credulous some folks can be when they place their hopes and aspirations in a leadership that has shown they will never fight.
For those of you who are willing to retreat now in the hopes of fighting during the debt ceiling battle, remember this incontrovertible reality: Republicans will never let the deadline pass without raising the debt ceiling, and they have already communicated that fear to the Democrats a long time ago. The same problem we had in 2011 is still relevant. Once Democrats know that Republicans are not willing to stand by their conditions for raising the debt ceiling, they will never accede to any changes, much less a balanced budget. They will wait out the clock and watch the GOP cave.
If you believe that there is no way around the fiscal cliff other than retreat, that’s fine. But don’t fool yourself into believing that the debt ceiling will bring us more success. It’s not the situation that is the problem; it’s the players on the field.
The only solution at this point is to pass a clean extension while the public is paying attention (they already did so several months ago, but nobody remembers). Pass a full extension of the tax cuts retroactive to January 1 along with the GOP sequester replacement bill, and leave town for Christmas. They should also add in a repeal of all the Obamacare tax hikes and toss in an additional tax cut for the middle class, such as a payroll tax cut extension (just make it permanent already!) Every tax bill has to originate in the House anyway. In that sense, the House has more leverage. Then, they need to pursue an aggressive media offensive accusing Obama of increasing taxes on everyone so he can punitively punish the rich. They need to rip him on the Obamacare tax hikes on the working class and eviscerate him from blocking a new middle class tax cut.
There is no easy way around this debacle, but the least we can do is clearly preserve our brand as the party of lower taxes, while concurrently pursuing a strategy that will change the narrative and place Obama on defense.