The short-run scenario involves House Speaker Boehner negotiating with President Barack Obama over recent weeks. Their stated aim is to avoid the broad pain of forced tax increases and spending cuts set to lead us off a fiscal cliff at the start of 2013.
The president has held firm that the tax bill of the nation’s wealthiest should go up, a policy Obama ran and won on. Republicans, most of whom had pledged to never raise taxes for any reason, scrambled to do something economists say is impossible — balancing the budget without raising at least some taxes.
In recent days it appeared there might be some movement on the negotiations as Boehner and Obama haggled over where the dollar figure for tax-raising would begin. That thin thread of hope unraveled Thursday. Boehner abruptly broke off talks with the president and announced the House would take a vote on what he termed Plan B, a sort of conservative wish list of policies that was going nowhere once it left the House of Representatives.
The bad news for Boehner is that Plan B never even got out of the House, dying Thursday night over a lack of Republican support. With his gambit defeated, Boehner announced the House was adjourning until after Christmas. The National Review described the speaker as looking “defeated, unhappy and exhausted after hours of wrangling.”
Obama must surely wonder if he’s been negotiating with the wrong man.
That’s the short-run picture. The longer run spans two decades, almost perfectly mirroring Boehner’s time in the U.S. House. Facing a deficit crisis, President George H.W. Bush in late 1990 approved a plan that raised taxes, a reversal of his no-taxes pledge at about the same time Boehner was seeking his first term in Congress.
In the time since, Republicans have told the story of the first President Bush’s tax plan as a ghost story. The lesson, they whisper, is never, ever, ever raises taxes or you’ll lose like Poppy Bush did.
Congressional Republicans have placed one of their responsibilities — budgeting — in a blind trust controlled by an unelected hyper-partisan. They had no problem spending — on wars, on tax breaks, on Medicare drug benefits and countless other pet projects — but they have refused to even consider raising revenue to pay for these expenses. Despite the propaganda to the contrary, the majority of the current deficit is due to Republican-initiated spending.
Boehner now finds himself stuck in a dark railroad tunnel. He didn’t have enough votes from his fellow party members to pass his so-called Plan B, which was supposed to be a thumb in the eye to Democrats and the president. His caucus is splintered over taxes, some apparently willing to play ball with the president while others are happily ready to send Americans cliff-diving on Dec. 31.
Boehner is reaping the punishment of two decades of economic irrationality. Not all taxes are good, nor are all taxes bad. The problem for Republicans is that they’ve painted themselves into a tight corner that allows them no latitude on any taxes.
To quote the great political philosopher Daffy Duck, “What a way to run a railroad!”