Walk Away, Republicans

Posted: Nov 29, 2012 10:43 AM

Negotiations over the fiscal cliff are not going well for Republicans.  Why? Because they are losing control of the narrative.  Today's Politico gave away the Obama administration's game:

There is only one way to make the medicine of tax hikes go down easier for Republicans: specific cuts to entitlement spending. Democrats involved in the process said the chest-pounding by liberals is just that — they know they will ultimately cave and trim entitlements to get a deal done.

A top Democratic official said talks have stalled on this question since Obama and congressional leaders had their friendly-looking post-election session at the White House. “Republicans want the president to own the whole offer upfront, on both the entitlement and the revenue side, and that’s not going to happen because the president is not going to negotiate with himself,” the official said. “There’s a standoff, and the staff hasn’t gotten anywhere. Rob Nabors [the White House negotiator], has been saying: ‘This is what we want on revenues on the down payment. What’s you guys’ ask on the entitlement side?’ And they keep looking back at us and saying: ‘We want you to come up with that and pitch us.’ That’s not going to happen.”

Got it? In other words, Obama wants Republicans to fight among themselves about the shape and size of a tax increase; THEN he wants them to be the ones who come up with the structural entitlement reforms that will be necessary to solve the US's long-term financial crisis -- so he can tell Americans that Republicans WANT to cut entitlements on the poor and middle-class IN EXCHANGE for tax increases on the evil rich.

''Scuse me, but what exactly is in this for the Republicans? Why should they play this game? Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan already put forward some structural Medicare changes during the campaign, only to have Democrats try to wage a Mediscare campaign against them. And Obama's "plan" is a joke; as John Stossel notes, if the IRS took 100% of income over $1 million, it would only pay off 1/3 of THIS YEAR's deficit and do nothing to solve the national debt. 

So far, the President has done NOTHING but offer one inflexible, entirely ideological ultimatum designed to divide Republicans: Raise tax rates on the rich, which will sustain the US government for approximately 8 days.  At that point, he abdicates all pretense of leadership, and asks the opposing party -- whom he routinely vilifies -- to do the hard work of proposing entitlement cuts across the board . . . and offer proposals that will allow him to pose as a friend of the middle class and paint the GOP as heartless enemies of "working people" in the 2014 campaign.

No thank you.  As Reason's Peter Suderman points out, in the unfortunate circumstances that the country goes over the fiscal clif and into recession, it's not the Republicans' agenda that will be stymied.  And it isn't ultimately the Republicans' legacy that will be endangered.

Republicans need simply to parrot endlessly that

(1) they are willing to consider revenue increases;

(2) Republicans have already offered suggestions to promote the long-term viability of programs like Medicare;

(3) the President's "plan" to raise taxes on the rich only raises enough to fund government for eight days

(4) they are simply waiting for the President's ideas on how to address the other 90% to negotiate.

If the President comes up with nothing between now and the deadline, over the cliff we go.  He knew this issue existed. He asked for four more years to lead.  So lead.

This is not a time to permit the President to vote "present."