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Are We Living in the Twilight Zone?

At least Esau got a bowl of lentil soup for selling out his birthright.  What will Republicans get?

It’s amazing how events in politics seem to repeat themselves more often than Charlie Brown and the football.  It seems like it was yesterday that we were advocating against Boehner’s trial balloon vote to raise the debt ceiling at the end of July.

Back in 2011, it was Republicans who had the superior leverage buttressed by the midterm elections, and it was Obama whose approval rating was in the toilet.  Yet everything was the same it is today.  In fact, part of the reason we are in this debacle today is because of the failure to articulate principles last July.

At the time, Republicans stood firm with the pledge never to raise the debt ceiling unless we would implement a plan like Cut, Cap, and Balance – one which would ensure that it would be the last debt ceiling increase.  On July 29, 2011, Boehner forced a vote to raise the debt ceiling for a deal that jettisoned Cut, Cap, and Balance.  On the surface, the deal sounded reasonable because the second installment of the $2.1 trillion debt limit increase was tied to passage of a balanced budget amendment.  However, it was clear that Boehner had no intention of even standing by this fallback plan.  The vote was merely a way of breaking their Cut, Cap, Balance pledge to pave the road for wholesale capitation.  A number of good guys bought into this subterfuge, with only 22 members voting no.

Four days later, the House voted to completely abjure their values and give Obama a blank check that would take him past the 2012 election in exchange for a vote on a balanced budget.  Oh, and we also got the super duper committee and the sequestration that Boehner now seeks to eliminate.  Although 44 more Republicans voted against the final debt ceiling increase, they had already paved the road for the jail break.

Boehner said at the time that he got 98% of what he wanted from the deal.  Well, Obama has eaten through the $2.1 trillion in just 16 months, and as they say, the rest is history.

Now conservatives stand on the precipice of repeating that exact same inanity.  They are willing to break their commitment (not to Grover, but to their constituents) against raising taxes for a vote that is designed exclusively to do just that – break their tax commitment.  Democrats have already said that it is dead on arrival and Boehner has made it clear that he would never stare down the Democrats over the cliff.  So we won’t even get the tax rates for up to $1 million in income.  Yet, this vote will pave the road for the final tax increase vote.

Heck, once you vote to raise taxes on income above $1 million, why not make it $500,000 and call it a day?  Once you are willing to raise taxes in exchange for unicorn cuts of $1 trillion, why not do so for unicorn cuts of $800,000 and for another year’s increase of the debt limit?

Congressman John Fleming (R-LA) asked the salient question of his colleagues:

“The question is, as a conservative, why go on record raising taxes on anybody if it never even gets the chance to cut spending or even get into law?”

This is an observation that is lost on a lot of conservative members supporting the plan.  They are speaking as if this is the final outcome.  It is not.  Boehner will never stand by his plan, just like he bailed on his balanced budget plan last year. He will just pocket the willingness to break the tax pledge and use it to cut a deal that’s even worse.

The most egregious thing is that members like Jeff Flake, who have served valiantly for years, are willing to buckle in exchange for the seventh or eighth promise of “fighting the next battle.”  They believe that once they dump the top 2% tax baggage, they will really stick it to Obama on spending during the debt ceiling fight.

Really?  Do they remember the 2011 debt ceiling fight?  Republicans have already sworn up and down that they would never let the debt limit deadline pass without raising it.  The Democrats know that.  As such, all their conditions are null and void because they are not willing to enforce them.  That will never change unless Democrats begin to fear that Republicans might actually stand behind a proposal and stare them down.

As I’ve said before, 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 same people who are incapable of communicating the debt problem now; the same people who have been incapable of communicating it during the past half dozen budget battles, will not have the ability to communicate it in January.

Those conservatives who fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.  And this is not ancient history.

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