- Timothy Stanley: It looks like the U.S. could be headed over the fiscal cliff
- He says people will blame John Boehner and GOP for economic consequences
- Stanley: Boehner couldn't clinch a deal with Obama or rally his own troops around Plan B
- GOP needs to rethink strategy; it can't afford this kind of ineffective leadership, he says
Now that the Mayan apocalypse has proven to be a fantasy, we can turn our attention to the real thing. Step forward John Boehner and the House Republicans, who could not agree on a tax rise on the rich and so have permitted taxes to jump on everyone. Over the fiscal cliff we go. And should the markets tremble and the economy rupture in the new year, we'll know who is the real author of our Armageddon. Not some Mayan priest but the GOP.
Here's the sad story of the fiscal cliff in a couple of tweets. On December 14, Eric Cantor tweeted, "We will not adjourn Congress until a credible solution to the fiscal cliff has been announced."
Indeed, it seemed like President Barack Obama and Boehner were determined to find a compromise, with the speaker edging toward "new revenues" and the president lowering the amount that he wanted. But on Thursday, Boehner tallied up the votes for his Plan B on taxes, calculated that he didn't have the number necessary for an increase on those earning more than $1 million and then withdrew the measure.
A few minutes later, Cantor tweeted, "The House of Representatives has concluded legislative business for the week. The House will return after the Christmas holiday when needed." Some might say that the business hasn't been concluded and that the House is needed right now. Either way, the "credible solution" feels as far away as it did when Cantor promised it last week.
The Republicans will pay for this. It's true that Plan B probably wouldn't have passed the Senate, and it's also true that because they don't control the presidency the Republicans were always negotiating from a position of weakness. But the popular perception will be that they preferred to allow a fiscal crisis to happen rather than raise taxes on what is calculated to be just 2% of the population (a position that polls suggest the voters favor). It smacks not only of ideology but also of greed -- a horrible combination. The result is that in the new year all those Bush tax cuts will disappear.
As the Democrats make a case for tax relief for the middle class, the GOP will be left making a case for giving a break to the rich. That puts the president's party in a good position to retake the House in 2014.
Should we blame the tea party right? Given that these lawmakers were probably the ones who denied Boehner his margin of passage, yes. But it's their job to stand up for what they believe in and hold the line against what they think are job-killing taxes. Never forget that the tea party revolt was aimed as much at the GOP establishment as it was Obama. It was Boehner's job to win these radicals over -- and his failure is what the media will now focus on.
Boehner got it wrong from the start. He worried conservatives by making an initial budget offer that seemed to give too much ground to the president. Then he tried to instill a little discipline in his ranks by denying tea party representatives posts they felt they deserved. Then he made a huge philosophical leap by endorsing the tax rise on the wealthy.
All this compromise would have been justified if it had delivered a bargain. But it didn't. Boehner made the classic political mistake of thinking that a display of reasonableness would charm the opposition and becalm the base with its rewards. Instead he has infuriated his friends and made champions of his enemies. Time magazine's decision to make Obama Person of the Year seems more appropriate than ever. Love or loath his class-war rhetoric, it's certainly working.
In 2013, the GOP has to have a major rethink about its political strategy. There is one wing that feels that the Republican Party was put on the Earth to reduce the state, and perhaps it was. But while the theory might have intellectual appeal (it's always nice to encounter a politician who stands for something), it's hard to hold that position and govern responsibly in concert with a Democratic president and Senate.
Like it or not, those are the conditions that the GOP has to work in for the next two years. If he's to keep his job, Boehner needs to convince his base that it's a) risking defeat and b) hurting the small government cause to keep being so obstructionist. If he can do neither, he should go. The GOP must either have a leader who will fight back hard with the president or a leader who will be able to persuade the base to bend a little. What it can't afford is what Boehner has given it: political failure.