As House members shouted out their choice for Speaker Thursday, someone shouted out Colin Powell’s name. Eventually Boehner won (his and Nancy Pelosi’s names were the only official ones in the hat), without the help of more than a few Republicans. So where do we go from here?
The recent fiscal cliff deal was an unmitigated disaster. First Boehner handed the President a victory on a silver platter by offering to allow rates to rise, period, then he failed to get Republicans behind his plan, then the Senate voted for its own plan that passed the House thanks to Democrats.
Congressman Mo Brooks made the point on my show that the fiscal cliff is, in fact, a Democratic creation; the vote for sequestration and the automatic expiration of the Bush tax cuts took place in 2010 under the leadership of Nancy Pelosi. Plan B was simply an attempt to mitigate the Democratic tax hike.
That’s a plausible defense; the problem is that Boehner himself never made it. He began his chest beating about taxes by saying that revenues were on the table (meaning the closing of loopholes) but not rates, and ended by caving on that tough talk.
What’s key here is that Boehner could have closed enough loopholes on the rich to raise more revenue than Obama agreed to, and the President would have rejected the plan. His point wasn’t economic—it couldn’t have been; a cursory look at the numbers tells us that if the budget is to be balanced, it can’t be done by raising taxes. His point was philosophical. He got the Republican leader of the House to agree to raise taxes for the first time in 20 years. Whatever legislation eventually materializes, he won.
So what can the Republican Party do? The short answer is, use the February deadline on raising the debt ceiling as leverage. Okay, I was kidding—sort of. What evidence is there, after all, that they will have more of a backbone than they had on the fiscal cliff deal? Moody’s is prepared to downgrade our AAA credit rating, following Standard & Poor’s move last year, unless we actually address the debt. The fiscal cliff “deal” would, in fact, have added to the debt. Politically, it is going to be harder to refuse to raise the debt ceiling than it would have been to refuse to raise tax rates.
The interesting question to ask is, where were other House conservatives ready to toss their name into the mix this time around? Boehner won re-election as Speaker because he ran unchallenged (Pelosi doesn’t count). One would think that SOMEONE would have stepped up to the plate and pledged to start picking up the pieces. Instead, it will be business as usual in the White House, The House of Representatives, and the Senate. Conservatives’ next move has to be trying to capture the Senate in two years (there are quite a few vulnerable Democrats up for re-election this time around). Then we have to run an unapologetic conservative for President in 2016—one we don’t settle for.
And then maybe, just maybe, we can try again to “conservatize” the House.
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