President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio discuss negotiations over the fiscal cliff.
Republican lawmakers won’t hear of voting to raise tax rates for the richest Americans. Instead, they’re ready to leap off the fiscal cliff next week, dragging the rest of the country with them and forcing damaging across-the-board cuts in discretionary and defense spending.
That outcome also threatens to return the nation to recession, roiling global financial markets and potentially costing millions of Americans their jobs. And it will automatically increase taxes for nearly all Americans — including the wealthiest households that Republicans are so determined to protect.
Thanks, guys. We won’t forget what you’ve done.
Last week, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio allowed his caucus — including, it appears, his colleagues in northwest Ohio, Reps. Bob Latta and Jim Jordan — to humiliate him. The speaker advanced a “Plan B” that would have raised tax rates only on millionaires, but pulled it without a vote when House Republicans refused to support even that modest concession to political reality.
It would be understandable if President Obama now sought to exploit his adversaries’ disorder. He could work with the Senate’s Democratic majority simply to pass a scaled-back bill keeping tax cuts for all but the top 2 percent of Americans and extending jobless benefits for long-term unemployed workers, and challenge the GOP-run House to reject it.
But the President still would serve the nation better by continuing to seek a balanced, bipartisan compromise to avert the fiscal cliff. It would address spending — including limits on the growth of entitlement programs, while protecting their neediest beneficiaries — as well as taxes. There isn’t much time left, but there’s enough.
Still, it won’t be easy. Mr. Boehner’s embarrassing miscalculation, displaying his inability to deliver his own caucus, has left the President without an obvious negotiating partner. Mr. Obama already has agreed to concessions — acquiescence in higher tax rates for 1 percent rather than 2 percent of Americans, acceptance of a new measurement of inflation that would adjust tax brackets and curb cost-of-living increases for Social Security benefits — that many Democrats and allied interest groups oppose.
Yet as GOP lawmakers remain oblivious to their setback in last month’s election, they still define compromise as: Let’s both agree to do things my way. In their intransigence, House Republicans — most of them, anyway — make clear they have no interest in governing.
Instead, they want to hold the nation hostage to their rigid anti-tax ideology, while catering to the lobbies that bankroll their campaigns.
That isn’t courageous, principled leadership. It’s extremism.
If, by contrast, the President and GOP lawmakers could reach a last-minute compromise, it would set the stage for meaningful deficit reduction that would preserve rather than gut entitlements for future recipients. It would prepare both parties to work productively on other vital issues, such as sensible firearms regulation and immigration reform.
In so doing, President Obama can provide a reminder that he is the leader of this country, not just of his party. It’s worth a try.
And if it doesn’t work, then Americans would know whom to blame.