If you listen to many in the Republican intelligentsia, you will hear this accusation that conservative rebels destroyed the Republican Party. The reality is that nothing changed after the defeat of Boehner’s plan B other than Republicans not buying into the premise of raising revenue for the federal leviathan.
Before last night’s vote, we faced two possible outcomes; either we go over the cliff (which is not even such a cliff because rates could always be extended retroactively) or Boehner was going to cave on 90% of what Obama wanted. The same thing applies now. Boehner was never going to stand by his plan. And if it was worth voting for Boehner’s plan, which according to their logic represented a tax cut for 99.81%, then it was worth voting for Obama’s plan, which, by the same logic is a tax cut for 99% of taxpayers.
This all gets back to the issue of trust, not the issue of compromise. Most of us would be willing to compromise on some level if we knew there would be some point at which Boehner would hold the line and fight for his own position. Instead, we saw him regress from no revenues to yes revenues, albeit through capping deductions; then form no marginal rate increases to yes marginal rate increases, albeit for over $1 million in income and no debt ceiling increase. With Obama remaining firm against this plan, and Boehner giving away the kitchen sink at a rapid pace, why should rank-and-file members have trusted him that he wouldn’t pocket their huge concession on the tax issue for a worse deal?
Well, maybe we should have trusted Boehner anyway, you might say.
But past experience is the best indicator of the future, and we’ve seen this exact same rodeo before. Let’s review the story of the debt ceiling for the millionth time. In 2011, Republicans had remained firm behind their Cut, Cap, Balance plan just like they did until now with H.R. 8 – full extension of the Bush tax rates. And similar to what he tried tonight, Boehner unilaterally proposed a compromise “best we can get” bill that jettisoned Cut, Cap, and Balance (CCB), although it still had some saving grace because it forced a balanced budget amendment at least for the second tranche of the debt limit hike.
Despite the fact that we all warned that Boehner would never stand by the plan and that they’d be breaking their CCB/debt ceiling pledge for nothing, they passed his bill. Yes, unlike this time, there weren’t enough intransigent, knucklehead, knuckle-dragging, Tea Party rubes who were willing to block it. Even though not a single Democrat supported it, the bill passed 218-210. They all rallied behind Boehner to “strengthen his hand” in the hopes of getting a good deal. Well, less than 24 hours later, he announced the grand bargain, which gave Obama a $2.1 trillion blank check with no balanced budget amendment and a defense sequester trap that they are dealing with to this day. Boehner said at the time that he got 98% of what he wanted from the deal.
Those of us with a head on our shoulders knew he had no intention of ever standing by his plan B back then. The initial vote was merely used as a ploy to pocket the willingness of conservatives to break their pledge on the debt ceiling. This bill last night was no different, except that the consequences of buying into Obama’s tax premise would have been much worse in the long run. As Rep. Tim Scott said last night, “we must focus on cutting spending. If the conversation is starting with revenues, we're having the wrong conversation.”
So you see, it’s all about trust. Had Boehner acted in good faith and kept his @#$% on his own line last time, more of us would have supported a painful concession. Had he stood by his deal last time, maybe we’d be willing to give in more on the tax issue, knowing that he’d fight to the death over the debt ceiling. But he did not stand by his own plan for even one day, and that is precisely why we are facing yet another debt ceiling just 17 months later – one which he will never have the guts to engage in brinkmanship.
There’s always a need to compromise, but compromising on such important issues requires an inviolate degree of trust from the other side. That trust is not there. And none of the Boehner apologists who are denigrating us have given us any reason why we should have trusted him this time. It’s as if the debt ceiling fiasco never existed.