Boehner Plays a Weak Hand

Christopher Weyant, The Hill

WASHINGTON — How dare he? President Obama, I mean: How dare he do what he promised during the campaign? How dare he insist on a “balanced approach” to fiscal policy that includes an teensy-weensy tax increase for the rich? Oh, the humanity.

Republicans are having conniptions. Witness the way House Speaker John Boehner reacted when Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner presented the administration’s proposals on taxes and spending:

“I was flabbergasted,” Boehner told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.” “I looked at him and said, ‘You can’t be serious.’ I’ve just never seen anything like it. You know, we’ve got seven weeks between Election Day and the end of the year. And three of those weeks have been wasted with this nonsense.”

The “nonsense” in question is a set of perfectly reasonable measures that Obama wants Congress to approve. Nothing in his package should be a surprise — except, perhaps, that the president has opened this negotiation by demanding what he really wants, rather than what he believes it would be convenient for Boehner to deliver.

“The president’s idea of a negotiation is, roll over and do what I ask,” Boehner groused.

Hmmm. Where do you imagine the president might have learned this particular bargaining technique? Might his instructors have been Boehner’s own House Republicans, who went so far as to hold the debt ceiling for ransom — and with it, the nation’s full faith and credit — in order to get their way?

Obama’s proposals include effectively taking away congressional authority over the debt ceiling, which would preclude a repeat of last year’s hostage crisis. Boehner called it “silliness” to think that Congress would willingly surrender a power it can use to “leverage the political process.” So it’s fine when Congress uses muscle to get its way but not when the president does the same?

“Right now, I would say we’re nowhere, period,” said Boehner. “We’re nowhere.”

Not true. It’s just that we’re somewhere Republicans would prefer not to be. We’re just past an election in which Obama won a second term and Democrats gained seats in both houses of Congress. And we’re nearing a “fiscal cliff” of tax increases and budget cuts that horrify Republicans more than Democrats.

In Boehner’s view, he has already made a major concession: He announced that Republicans are “willing to put revenue on the table,” perhaps to the tune of $800 billion over a decade. But he insists this money has to come from eliminating deductions and closing loopholes — and not from any increase in income tax rates.

Obama insists that a modest increase in tax rates for the wealthiest households — from 35 percent to 39.6 percent, the rate during the Clinton years — must be part of any package.

This fight isn’t about whether the rich will pay more in taxes; it is clear that they will. It’s about whether this new revenue is collected in a way that allows House Republicans to say they have kept their pledge never to raise marginal tax rates for anyone, for any purpose.

Refusing to budge has served House Republicans well in previous budget negotiations. But the no-taxes-ever bulwark has not served the country well, and if Obama sees a way to blast through it, he would be remiss not to try.

Geithner seems confident. “You’ve heard (Republicans) for the first time, I think, in two decades, acknowledge that they are willing to have revenues go up as part of a balanced plan,” he said Sunday. “That’s a good first step, but they have to tell us what they are willing to do on rates and revenues. That’s going to be very hard for Republicans. We understand that, but there’s no way through this without that.”

He sounds like the doctor who says you might feel a “pinch” or a bit of “discomfort.” Meanwhile, he’s coming at you with a needle the size of an icepick.

There is no guarantee that Obama will get everything he wants out of this showdown. But I’d rather be playing the president’s hand than Boehner’s.

Most House Republicans are in safe districts, but not all of them — and the GOP majority will be smaller when the new Congress convenes. Polls indicate that most Americans believe the tax increase Obama seeks for the wealthy is no big deal. It’s hard to imagine how Republicans can possibly get a better offer on taxes and spending in January than they can get now.

Hence Boehner’s urgency. Time is not on his side.

Eugene Robinson’s email address is eugenerobinson@washpost.com. (c) 2012, Washington Post Writers Group

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6 Comments

  1. Obama’s proposals include effectively taking away congressional authority over the debt ceiling, which would preclude a repeat of last year’s hostage crisis. Boehner called it “silliness” to think that Congress would willingly surrender a power it can use to “leverage the political process.” So it’s fine when Congress uses muscle to get its way but not when the president does the same?

    It’s silliness if you think any congress would go along with it no matter who the president was.

    And I’m not sure why the republicans refusal to increase tax rates while still raising revenue is some much worse than the Presidents demand to raise rates even tho he can get the same money by eliminating deductions.

  2. I agree that no Congress would give up power re the debt ceiling.

    I think higher tax rates on the wealthiest would bring in more revenue than elimination of loopholes… and which loopholes do the Republican want eliminated?

    Slightly off topic… During the election the Republicans swore they would not touch Medicare. Cuts to this should not be on the table at all, since both parties claim to support it. I have a feeling that Republicans weren’t sincere in their election attempts to support Medicare. Or they now want to appear as if they “gave in” and “compromised” by now agreeing (when it happens) to “save” Medicare in return for some concession from the Dems. So again… Medicare should be taken off the table as the Republicans claim to support it during the elections. Call them on their B.S.

  3. And I’m not sure why the republicans refusal to increase tax rates while still raising revenue is some much worse than the Presidents demand to raise rates even tho he can get the same money by eliminating deductions.

    It is a question of who pays only. Raising the tax rates on incomes greater than $250,000 means that the people who earn more than $250,000 a year will pay all of the increase. Eliminating deductions and loopholes means that the people who use the deductions and loopholes will pay. The Republicans refusal to say which deductions and loopholes they want to eliminate makes it hard to figure out who exactly will pay but simple math tells us that to reach 800 billion dollars a year in increased revenue means that the charitable deduction and the home mortgage deduction, the two largest deductions in cost to the Treasury, will have to be reduced.

  4. What about Capital gains? Oh, that’s right..they aren’t specifying.
    This isn’t a “secret Santa” grab bag at the office. People kind of like to know what they’re getting.
    Boehners ” we will give you $800 bil over 10 years and let you know the details later”.

    And they had the nerve to laugh at Obamas’ proposal.

    To coin modern verbacular…”they be trippin”.

  5. NPR had a piece today showing that based on the numbers that have been floated so far the GOP proposals for limiting deductions would hit many people who don’t make $250,000.

  6. Most of us remember that, although Obama tried several times in speeches to the Nation, to explain that raising the debt is a routine measure by which the Government certifies repayment of debts it has already incurred, the President also adamantly warned that failure to raise it, would most likely result in a lowering of our credit rating that would result in higher interest rates for borrowing and only hurt our economy.

    In the end, even coming close to failing to raise the debt ceiling, resulted in a lowering of our credit. However, Republicans were as quick as Pirrahnas destroying a cows carcass, to pin the blame on the President—even though it was the GOP that continually failed to approve this routine measure until the last moment— thereby inviting a downgrade. I assume that along with another deep recession, refusing to reach a budget deal before 2013 will also land a devastating blow to our credit rating, and the way that the world judges our economic viability. Therefore, any Republican who continues to make power plays, over such a relatively small increase in taxes, should have a special place reserved for them in the lowest circle of Hell—an existence even more horrible than the one Wall street forced on many middle class Americans!

    A continuing talking point of theirs is that, small businesses will have to fire employees because of the extra taxes paid by those “small” businesses which earn over $250,000 a year (or $200,000) for individuals, and,will cripple their ability to hire workers because they will be forced to drop employees insurance coverage in favor of paying a penalty–something which supposedly will stifle their businesses. But, fact checking sources like FactCheck.org, completely dispute this possibility, saying that, only a small percentage of employers will have to drop group coverage for their employees, and also that, studies done on the subject by media giants such as the Wall Street Journal, erroneously include the employees who willingly give up their employer’s insurance in order to receive insurance (voluntarily) under Obamacare—NOT because they are forced by employers to give up workplace insurance. Independent Fact Checkers also go on to say that, only about 3% or the workforce will be directly effected by Obamacare forcing employers to to drop their coverasge, and, will instead—because of being better off financially–choose to work less hours or retire earlier.

    The more one questions Republican talking points about taxes and Obamacare, in relation to the Debt problem, the more one discovers that, almost all of them are based on lies and/or exaggerations. The only thing left to conclude is that they are reluctant to give up any amount of their money, and are wary of denying the lobbyists hired by special interest groups, which supported their campaigns and help put money in their own pockets.

    There is an abundant amount of information gathered by independent groups dedicated to discovering the truth about these issues, which completely destroys any credibility behind the GOP’s fiscal demands. Here is a web address on FActCheck.org that discusses some of them.

    http://www.factcheck.org/tag/job-killing/feed/

    You can gather more information by searching for any topic concerning the budget, and, the disputes between both parties about how to best reduce the debt.

    Isn’t it funny that Boehner’s latest demands include only $800 Billion in new revenue over the next ten years, while Obama’s plan offered to shrink the National debt by 4 trillion over the next decade by raising 1.6 Trillion dollars in tax revenues, and (also including a large number of spending cuts)? Who do you think is actually more concerned about the deficit and the well-being of the Middle class at this point? Let me give you a hint…..Democrats?!

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