November 29 2012
Should Republicans Vote "Present" On the Fiscal Cliff?
Human Events is one of the standard bearers of American conservatism. Nobody but nobody associates the venerable Human Events with squishiness. So, when I went there a little while ago, I was pretty much stunned to see not one but several stories advising the GOP to fold and give into President Obama on taxes to prevent going over the so-called fiscal cliff.
Since I bounce back and forth on what should be done, I am only calling your attention to this unexpected turn of events without taking sides, a rare show of restraint for me.
John Wohlstetter, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, noted that the GOP will be blamed if it stands firm on taxes and there is a government shutdown. But the GOP will also be blamed, he said, if they sign onto a deal—which would likely be 90 to 95 percent what the president wants—and the economy went even further south:
Fortunately, there is a way Republicans can escape falling into the trap: Publicly accept President Obama’s proposals in full, subject to the following conditions: First, there must be no staff midnight sessions drafting last-minute hidden hooks. Second, there must be no floor amendments by either party, simply an up or down vote on the deal. Third, the president must stand before the TV cameras and state that his party owns all of it, flanked by House and Senate Democratic leaders who say the same. Fourth, GOP House and Senate leaders declare that (a) as Obama won the election, but (b) the GOP opposes tax rate increases as bad economics, the GOP will step aside, without endorsing the package.
Columnist David Harsanyi, another capitulator, was blunt: Republicans don’t have any leverage in this fight. Harsanyi writes:
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….
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.
Let’s call the argument against capitulation the Krauthammer Thesis: Charles Krauthammer said last night on Fox that caving could destroy the Republican Party, which is built on the idea of lower taxes. Indeed, Krauthammer suggested that President Obama is hanging his hat on the rate increase for high earners because he knows this to be the case. Republicans who cave on taxes generally end up regretting it.
While I can’t make up my mind on this, I will say that there is one delicious aspect of the Wohlstetter proposal—it’s an awful lot like voting present.
I can think of a politician who did pretty well with that trick.