Where’s the GOP plan?

Averting the fiscal cliff will require GOP lawmakers to offer detailed proposals, not just obstruction

11/13/2012

Republican lead­ers of Con­gress — House Speaker John Boe­h­ner of Ohio, Senate Minor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, et al — claim they can steer the na­tion away from hur­tling over the fis­cal cliff with­out en­act­ing the higher tax rates on the wealth­i­est Amer­i­cans that Pres­i­dent Obama seeks.

Great. Let them show Amer­i­cans how they will do that.

Of course, that will re­quire a plan, with de­tails and dol­lar fig­ures, not merely re­heated cam­paign slo­gans that vot­ers em­phat­i­cally re­jected last week. It will re­quire anti-tax rad­i­cals among House and Senate Re­pub­li­cans to al­low their lead­ers to ne­go­ti­ate.

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If GOP law­mak­ers re­ject such spec­i­fic­ity in fa­vor of con­tin­ued blus­ter and black­mail, they will for­feit the right to be taken se­ri­ously as ne­go­ti­at­ing part­ners, much less lead­ers to whom the Pres­i­dent and na­tion must ca­pit­u­late.

If the Pres­i­dent and Con­gress can­not agree by year’s end on a bal­anced pro­gram of spend­ing cuts and rev­e­nue in­creases to re­duce the fed­eral debt and def­i­cit, a Dra­co­nian pack­age au­to­mat­i­cally will take ef­fect. That means nearly all Amer­i­cans would face higher taxes, not just the 2 per­cent of house­holds that earn more than $250,000 a year, whose tax rates would go up un­der Mr. Obama’s pro­posal.

It also means deep and in­dis­crim­i­nate across-the-board cuts in both mil­i­tary and do­mes­tic spend­ing. It al­most cer­tainly means a re­turn to re­ces­sion.

Those out­comes should be avoided at al­most all costs — but not sur­ren­der to a rad­i­cal, in­tran­si­gent Re­pub­li­can fringe in Con­gress with which vot­ers have sig­naled their dis­sat­is­fac­tion.

Mr. Boe­h­ner speaks vaguely, as GOP pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Mitt Rom­ney did dur­ing the cam­paign, of rais­ing taxes on the rich­est Amer­i­cans by clos­ing “loop­holes.”

Like Mr. Rom­ney, the speaker won’t iden­tify the de­duc­tions, ex­emp­tions, or cred­its he wants to elim­i­nate. The tax pref­er­ence for cap­i­tal gains? The de­duc­tion for mort­gage in­ter­est? For char­i­ta­ble con­tri­bu­tions? For state and lo­cal tax pay­ments?

Dur­ing the cam­paign, Mr. Rom­ney pro­posed — with­out go­ing into de­tail — lim­it­ing the to­tal dol­lar amount of item­ized de­duc­tions that a tax­payer could claim. Does Mr. Boe­h­ner want to em­brace that ap­proach? If so, what ceil­ing would he im­pose on de­duc­tions?

Another way to raise rev­e­nue with­out in­creas­ing tax rates would be for the Pres­i­dent and Con­gress fi­nally to do some­thing they should have done long ago: tax emis­sions of car­bon di­ox­ide and other green­house gases, at a rate per ton that would in­crease over time.

By forc­ing Amer­i­cans to cal­cu­late the true costs of pol­lu­tion, such a tax would fight man-made global warm­ing, re­duce de­pen­dence on im­ported oil, and pro­mote al­ter­na­tive en­ergy sources. The re­gres­sive ef­fects of such a tax on poorer fam­i­lies would need to be al­le­vi­ated, but it’s time to pro­ceed.

Pres­i­dent Obama must ac­knowl­edge the need to limit the growth of en­ti­tle­ment pro­grams and re­form the tax code as el­e­ments of def­i­cit re­duc­tion. He ought not to be wed­ded to the idea of higher tax rates on the rich, if a bet­ter al­ter­na­tive presents it­self. But one hasn’t so far, and Re­pub­li­cans are mak­ing no ef­fort to of­fer one.

With­out a change, Pres­i­dent Obama may need to take his def­i­cit-re­duc­tion case to the coun­try, rather than waste time ne­go­ti­at­ing with a group of small-bore par­ti­sans who ev­i­dently can’t read elec­tion re­sults, or re­al­ize that their bluff­ing doesn’t scare any­one any­more.