John Boehner is not acting like a confident man.
Yesterday, the House speaker made a curt, 52-second public statement regarding fiscal-cliff negotiations and then turned and left the room, unwilling to take a question.
Later in the day, the AJC’s Daniel Malloy saw Boehner in a heated discussion with a handful of Georgia Republicans on the House floor. Asked about it later, they told Malloy that Boehner was pleading with them to support his so-called Plan B, which would raise taxes only on those with annual incomes of more than $1 million. At best, they seem unconvinced.
The speaker’s proposal — floated as a way to demonstrate that House Republicans are “serious” about deficit reduction — is scheduled to be voted on today. There’s a chance that it will go down to defeat if enough of Boehner’s fellow Republicans refuse to support it on grounds that it raises taxes, if only on the top 0.19 percent of earners.
It’s also interesting to note that Pope Grover I of Norquist has issued an papal bull decreeing that Plan B is somehow NOT a tax hike, and thus will not be interpreted as violating the no-tax-hikes-ever pledge that so many Republicans have signed. That says a lot about the hypocrisy involved, and about Norquist’s continuing power over party members. They may be elected by the people of their district, but they are answerable first to Pope Grover. They have to wait for him to tell them, like some pope ruling on a theological dispute, whether they have permission to cast a vote one way or the other.
Here’s the angels-dancing-on-the-head-of-a-pin rationale released by Norquist through his front group, Americans for Tax Reform, explaining how a bill that raises taxes is not really a tax hike:
“ATR has consistently maintained that individual members of Congress make a pledge to their constituents to oppose and vote against tax increases. The House this week will vote on a tax bill. This legislation — popularly known as “Plan B” — permanently prevents a tax increase on families making less than $1 million per year. Republicans supporting this bill are this week affirming to their constituents in writing that this bill — the sole purpose of which is to prevent tax increases — is consistent with the pledge they made to them. In ATR’s analysis, it is extremely difficult — if not impossible — to fault these Republicans’ assertion.
In particular, in this Congress the House has already voted twice to prevent any tax increases on any American. When viewed with this in mind, and considering this tax bill contains no tax increases of any kind — in fact, it permanently prevents them — matters become more clear. Having finally seen actual legislation in writing, ATR is now able to make its determination about a legislative proposal related to the fiscal cliff. ATR will not consider a vote for this measure a violation of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge.”
The statement is a clear lie, because as even Boehner has said, Plan B does raise taxes. Also note the claim that politicians made the no-tax pledge not to Norquist, but to their constituents. Pope Grover trotted out that same logic recently in his dispute with Sen. Saxby Chambliss, claiming that “If (Chambliss) plans to vote for higher taxes to pay for Obama-sized government, he should address the people of Georgia and let them know that he plans to break his promise to them. The senator’s reference to me is odd. His promise is to the people of Georgia.”
Yet it is Norquist, not the people of Georgia, or Alabama, or North Dakota, who claims the power to define a clear tax hike as not a tax hike at all.
As a further sign of trouble, late last night Boehner and his allies tried to sweeten Plan B by adding spending cuts to the measure, including cuts that would gut ObamaCare. That may help the speaker through this most immediate crisis, but he also knows that when the time comes to recruit GOP votes for a final, negotiated package to avert the fiscal cliff, that package will not include cuts to ObamaCare.
A second GOP bill, also added to the day’s calendar to make Plan B easier to swallow, would end all defense cuts scheduled to take place under sequestration and replace them with still more cuts to social programs. That way, 100 percent of the cuts would come from entitlements and other programs, while defense spending is untouched.
The bottom line remains the same: House Republicans are badly out of step with the American people.
In another in a long string of such polls, a Washington Post/ABC News poll released this week reported that 74 percent of Americans find tax hikes on those making $250,000 or more “acceptable.” Even 51 percent of Republicans find that acceptable. And 76 percent of Americans said House Republicans are not willing to compromise enough.
Overall, just 28 percent back cuts to Medicaid, just 34 percent back reductions in future growth of Social Security benefits and only 36 percent back raising the Medicare eligibility age to 67. The area that draws the most support for cutbacks (defense, at 42 percent; 48 percent among independents) is the only area in which Republicans refuse to even consider cuts.
That does not mean that cuts should not be made, in defense as well as social programs. Our fiscal problems cannot be corrected through tax hikes alone, nor through spending cuts alone. It has to be both. And by Boehner’s own admission, President Obama has proposed some $850 billion in spending cuts (the administration says the total is closer to $1.2 trillion once you throw in lower interest payments.)
Overall, those polling numbers tell us that Boehner has very little backing among the American people for the policies that his own caucus is insisting that he pursue to the bitter end. He knows that, and he’s trying to get that point across to his caucus. But in too many cases, he is preaching practicality to people to whom appeals to practicality smack of early-onset RINOism, an often fatal disease in that group.
– Jay Bookman