A Time for Choosing
Obama has spent four years asserting that his plan to let the Bush tax cuts expire on the top two brackets is not a tax increase, rather just a continuation of the current law (pursuant to the sunset provision) for the wealthy, and a tax cut for 98% of taxpayers. Republicans spent the past 4 years sans the last month arguing that this would constitute a job killing tax hike, and that we needed to cut spending, not raise taxes.
Last month, Republicans began to use the parlance of the left by saying that we need to raise revenue and that it will come from the rich. However, they swore that it would only come through closing deductions (which they began referring to as loopholes), not raising marginal rates. Well, now Boehner is putting a proposal before the House to raise the marginal rate on those earning more than $1 million. We have come full circle.
There is absolutely no benefit to voting for this over voting for full extension (along with repeal of Obamacare tax hikes and a further middle class tax cut). Either way, Obama has promised to veto the bill, so why die on a hill that is unprincipled and that will get us on record as facilitating a tax increase?
Amazingly, after attacking Obama for years for his desire to raise taxes, many conservatives in the House think we are from Mars by calling Boehner’s plan a tax hike. They claim that this is really a tax cut for 99.81% of the public, given that current law has the Bush rates expiring.
Did these people just wake up in the morning and have a light go off in their brain that the law was written as a sunset provision, and in a garrulous game of semantics realize that this is not technically a tax hike? While it might not meet the snake oil salesman definition of a tax hike, it was a position ubiquitously held by Republicans of all stripes until this week. Why was Obama’s tax cut for 98% laughed off by Republicans as the biggest tax increase ever, yet Boehner’s plan is a tax cut? Sorry, the ship already sailed on the parlance of letting the Bush tax cuts expire. We all called it a tax increase when Obama was suggesting it. If Boehner wants to throw his hands up and say he has no choice but to give in to Obama, then fine. But please don’t refer to the plan you called a tax hike for months as a tax cut.
Besides, the American people don’t see it that way. They see Republicans agreeing to the premise of raising revenue while conveniently allowing ‘the top rate not to be reinstated.’ To this day; to this minute, Boehner is still using the language of a ‘balanced approach.” Call it what you want, but “Plan B” will be read as a clear acquiescence on taxes for years to come. And for what? It won’t pass anyway.
What we need to do is pass a full extension along with additional tax cuts and repeal of Obamacare tax cuts, which by the way, are now opposed by more than a dozen Democrat Senators, including Al Franken. If we let Obama know that he has 218 Republicans who are willing to raise marginal rates in return for no tweaks to Obamacare and no transformational spending cuts, he will pocket the concession and negotiate down for even more. By outflanking Obama on tax cuts for the middle class (along with a complete extension of the current rates), we will put the onus back on Obama heading into January 1. Even Speaker Boehner spoke strongly today that if Obama blocks his bill, he will own the largest tax increase in American history. So why will he only own it if we vote to increase taxes on the .002%? You as way as well go all the way.
Some Republicans have said that we already passed a full extension. But for goodness sakes, that was in August when nobody was paying attention. Why not provide the moral clarity of a clean extension, and possibly an additional middle class tax cut right before the so-called cliff?
And what about the January 1 deadline?
Congressman Tom McClintock, a conservative warrior who we all respect immensely, explained his rationale for supporting Boehner like this:
“Here’s the fine point of it: if a lifeguard sees 10 swimmers drowning off his beach and he can only save nine of them, it doesn’t mean that he’s drowned the tenth one. And no lifeguard would be worth a damn if he said: ‘As a lifeguard I maintain the principle that nobody should drown off my beach; and since I can’t save all 10, I won’t save any because that would go against my principles,’
The flaw with that analogy is that drowning is something that happens instantaneously. January 1, on the other hand, is not a drop-dead calamity. Most of the tax increases are back-loaded, except for the payroll tax cut, which all sides agreed to let expire (although I think we should go on offense and make it permanent). If we stand on principle we can slug it out day by day and use our control of the House, which must initiate any tax bill, to show that we are the only ones who could pass a complete and comprehensive tax cut. The country will not die at midnight January 1. Why give away the farm right now when Obama has no pressure to accept it?
Moreover, why rush to formulate such monumental long-term policy because of one contrived day? If we ultimately must cave, we can always do that, but why not stand and fight now?
The broader implications of this vote are much worse. This is not about the.002% who will see their taxes rise under this proposal, as supporters of Boehner have suggested. This is about the past and the future. Republicans have gone for two decades without raising taxes. By supporting this bill, which won’t even be the final deal and will never become law, Republicans will pave the road for endless tax increases. Once they publicly buy into Obama’s premise, it’s all over. We could actually get clobbered on the debt ceiling fight next year. He can demand a balanced approach to the debt ceiling as well, and on some superficial level, it will poll well with the public. And once you raise taxes on those over $1 million, and ultimately, those over $400-500k as part of the final deal, why not raise taxes on those earning more than 200k? Why not raise the gasoline tax? Bill Shuster, the Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is already on record as supporting a gas tax increase.
This is why any conservative with a conscious would vote no on this and demand a new vote on a full extension of the current rates along with the sequester replacement bill, as proposed by Rep. Jim Jordan. If the amendment is not approved, which appears to be the case, conservatives must vote down the rule (H.J. Res. 66) to the bill tomorrow. That will deny them the majority to bring the bill to a final vote. It’s as simple as that.