Since Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner has been urging President Barack Obama to take the lead on the “fiscal cliff,” a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts set to take effect next year, and has hinted that he’s open to tax reform that would raise revenues while promoting growth. Obama, however, has been pushing a tax hike on higher-income earners, which is a non-starter in the House.
Boehner has also spoken to members of his caucus, telling them that they can’t affford to deal with another fiscal showdown with President Obama:
On a conference call with House Republicans a day after the party’s electoral battering last week, Speakerdished out some bitter medicine, and for the first time in the 112th Congress, most members took their dose.
Their party lost, badly, Mr. Boehner said, and while Republicans would still control the House and would continue to staunchly oppose tax rate increases as Congress grapples with the impending fiscal battle, they had to avoid the nasty showdowns that marked so much of the last two years.
Members on the call, subdued and dark, murmured words of support — even a few who had been a thorn in the speaker’s side for much of this Congress.
It was a striking contrast to a similar call last year, when Mr. Boehner tried to persuade members to compromise with Democrats on a deal to extend a temporary cut in payroll taxes, only to have them loudly revolt.
The Congressional Budget Office released a report last week noting that if steps weren’t taken to deal with the “fiscal cliff” that the economy would enter into a recession with unemployment rising as high as 9.1%. Some conservatives have floated the idea of going over the fiscal cliff as they think it may be the only way to bring the country back on the right course.
Republicans are also trying to deal with the spending cuts, particularly for defense, that are set to take place at the beginning of the year. Eli Lake notes that this debate inside the GOP is no different from other arguments on public policy the party is expected to go through. Lake explains, “[W]ith the rise of the Tea Party and with defense spending about to take center stage in Washington, that strain could be more prominent than ever,” adding, “Which means that, on foreign policy as on many other subjects, Republicans have a lot of internal arguing ahead of them.”
The current atmosphere in Congress is familiar territory is reminiscent of the debate over the bailout. The stock market was plunging and each day Congress didn’t act brought another day of losses. Some thought that letting these firms go bankrupt, as opposed to bailing them out, was the only real way to deal with the economic crisis. Though in the minority at the time, Republican leadership pushed to scrounge up enough votes, making bailouts a permanent part of public policy.
The atmosphere is ripe for Speaker Boehner and Republican leadership to make a bad deal for the American people. There is only a short window of time for them to act and the sense of urgency coupled with last week’s election results only increases that likelihood.