the national interest

GOP ‘Doomsday Plan’ Neither a Plan Nor Doom-y

Murderous robot overlords are not specifically mentioned.

Jonathan Karl reports that House Republicans now appear ready to put into effect what they are calling a “Doomsday Plan” — the passing of an extension of the Bush tax cuts on incomes under $250,000 a year. How, you might ask, does the Doomsday Plan differ from just going along with what President Obama has been asking? Well, first, they’re not labeling it a capitulation, they’re labeling it a Doomsday Plan, which sounds more badass than Capitulation Plan. Second, they’re packaging it along with future plans to wage a huge war against Obama, reports Karl:

House Republicans would allow a vote on extending the Bush middle class tax cuts (the bill passed in August by the Senate) and offer the president nothing more: no extension of the debt ceiling, nothing on unemployment, nothing on closing loopholes. Congress would recess for the holidays and the president would face a big battle early in the year over the debt ceiling.

So, yeah, Republicans would still have things to fight over. Obama is going to want measures to reduce unemployment. Republicans can dangle those. Obama is also going to want to not destroy the credit rating of the U.S. government for no good reason, and Republicans will threaten to do that, though it’s not clear that Obama is going to submit to another blackmailing on this.

But Republicans will also need Obama to sign a law canceling out the huge defense spending cuts scheduled for next year. If Obama is starting out with a trillion in higher revenue in his pocket (through expiration of the Bush tax cuts on the rich), and the extension of the middle-class tax cuts have largely taken the threat of a recession off the table, then he’ll still be negotiating from a position of strength. He’ll be able to offer Republicans cuts to entitlement programs plus defense spending increases in return for modest revenue increases, which don’t have to involve rate hikes, just to get to his own budget proposal. That’s the path I laid out in my story anticipating these negotiations in October.

The evolving Republican position appears to be a response to the recognition that the party doesn’t have any leverage to fight Obama over the Bush tax cuts and doesn’t seem to know what it wants to do on spending.

Interestingly, Republicans also appear preoccupied with avoiding the atmosphere of surrender. Karl reports that Republicans are considering having their members vote “present” on an extension of the middle-class tax cuts, thus allowing it to pass with Democratic votes. What is the difference? That way, they haven’t done anything that could be called a vote to raise taxes. Instead, they have stood aside and allowed Democrats to raise taxes. This would be in keeping with the strategy hinted at by Grover Norquist. Norquist has urged Republicans to negotiate in public rather than in secret, which is obviously ludicrous, and has urged them not to put their “fingerprints on the murder weapon,” meaning to openly endorse any deal.

What possible difference could there be between allowing something to happen and voting for it? The key to understanding this bizarre pathology is that Norquist and the modern Republican Party trace their origins to the conservative revolt against the 1990 budget deal. That year, President Bush struck an agreement with Democrats in Congress to raise taxes, slightly, and to cut spending. Conservatives assailed the bargain, and the movement is largely designed to prevent any such thing from happening again. Even though the 1990 deal was in fact wildly successful both as a mechanism for reducing spending and reducing the deficit, conservatives remember it to this day as an abject failure.

Norquist and his absolutist anti-tax policy are one by-product of that rejection. Another is an abhorrence of the means by which that deal came about. Hence the almost psychotic fear of secret negotiations, capitulation, and leaders selling out the party base. For Republicans in Congress, a tax increase that occurs over their objections is vastly preferable to one that occurs with their consent.

GOP ‘Doomsday Plan’ Neither a Plan Nor Doom-y