Reid on the Fiscal Cliff: "We're Not Going to Do Anything"

Posted: Dec 20, 2012 4:35 PM

Raise your hand if you're the least bit surprised.  Harry Reid's Senate has perfected the art of doing nothing; from not passing budgets to not taking up President Obama's various proposals.  They also do quite a bit of not debating or voting on legislation -- due to a record number of Republican filibusters, triggered by Reid's historic abuse of shutting down the amendment process.  So with America on the precipice of devastating across-the-board tax hikes, Harry Reid is promising to do precisely nothing unless President Obama gets everything he wants.  Two quotes from today's press conference:

(1) "We are not taking up anything they are working on over [in the House]."

(2) "We are not going to do anything."

Senate Republicans have culled a list of choice quotes from Reid over the last three weeks, demanding that the House act to protect the middle class while "compromising" on rates for the "richest of the rich:"

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV): "We are willing to compromise, but we also will not consign the middle class to higher tax bills while millionaires and billionaires avoid all the pain." (Sen. Reid, Congressional Record, S.7364, 12/4/12)

REID: "…waiting for them to do something that will help the middle class. … All the president is asking - all we're asking is take care of the middle class and do something about the richest of the rich." (Sen. Reid, Press Conference, 12/13/12)

REID: "Generally during a negotiation, each side brings an offer or demand to the table. That is how it has always worked. Then the two sides sit down and find middle ground. It is not always easy and it is rarely fun. True compromise means no one gets everything they want, but unless both sides come to the negotiating table with an offer, you can't even begin the negotiation. In fact, unless both sides come to the table with an offer, there is no negotiation."  

Reid conveniently disregards the fact that the House has already voted to avert the roster of economic ruin that is the fiscal cliff, including the maintenance of all current tax rates for the middle class.  Nevertheless, with Democrats refusing to budget, House Republicans are gearing up to vote on Speaker John Boehner's "Plan B," which would permanently extend more than 99 percent of all current tax rates, but would allow Democrats to raise taxes on families on businesses making more than $1 million per year.  The GOP opposes this outcome, but they're willing to put it on the table in the interests of avoiding the cliff.  Reid prattles about "millionaires and billionaires" and "the richest of the rich" in the quotes above, all of which are plucked from earlier this month.  "Plan B" offers the majority leader's party the chance to finally stick it to the very people he describes.  As we explored yesterday, the $1 million compromise threshold has been touted by the likes of Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer in the not-so-distant past.  It can't be dismissed as "radical."  Indeed, the proposal is rather controversial on the Right: Americans for Tax Reform has given it a clean bill of health, Freedomworks signaled tentative support for the idea before reversing their position, and both the Club for Growth and Heritage Action remain staunchly opposed.  As Katie reported earlier, Boehner and Cantor are expressing confidence that they have the votes to pass "Plan B" later this evening.  We'll see if they receive any Democratic tallies, as Pelosi is expected to whip her caucus hard against voting her own previous proposal (which she now boasts was a "ploy" all along).

If Boehner does muster enough support to pass the plan, Republicans' next move will be telling.  If everyone sticks around and lingers in town, it will signal that Boehner is hoping to use the vote as an eleventh-hour leverage power play to influence behind-the-scenes negotiations with Obama.  I continue to worry that any resulting "bargain" would be no such thing for conservatives, and I'm dubious about the wisdom of whipping GOP members for an on-the-record vote to allow tax hikes simply as a bargaining chip.  On the other hand, if the GOP caucus passes "Plan B," then heads home for the holidays, they're playing some real hard ball.  It would suggest that the Boehner/Obama talks are stuck in the mud, and that Republicans are finished with negotiating against themselves.  I would strongly prefer the latter scenario, the success of which would depend on Republican messaging.  Gulp.  They would have to make it crystal clear that they have offered plan after plan, incorporating ideas that Obama himself has backed in the recent past, but to no avail.  They would have to flood the zone with the (accurate) talking point that Republicans have compromised twice in Plan B.  First, by permitting Democrats to hike tax rates on millionaires, which Republicans have fought for economic reasons.  Second, by keeping $1.2 trillion in sequestration cuts intact, including major cuts to the US military.  Conservatives detest these defense cuts, which were originally suggested by the White House during last summer's debt debate.  The House has voted to offset those reductions, but the Senate has refused to act, and Obama threatened a veto.  So all of those bipartisan cuts remain in place.  Republicans should say that they are not happy with the compromise by any stretch of the imagination, but Democrats left them no choice.  They acted to prevent 99 percent of taxpayers from seeing a significant tax hike on January 1.  They acted to avoid the cliff.  They acted in a way that gave up some key Republican demands.  "Your move, Democrats -- we're finished."  Would Obama have the cajones to follow through on his latest veto threat?  He may very well be bluffing.  Will Republicans call him on it?

UPDATE - House Republicans are currently proposing another bill to avoid the sequestration cuts.  They're quoting Obama's promise to the American people during the final presidential debate:

President Barack Obama startled Washington during Monday night's foreign policy debate when he said billions in automatic Pentagon cuts “will not happen" — a line that could weaken his bargaining power during an epic spending and tax fight expected when Congress returns. Obama was responding to criticism from Republican rival Mitt Romney that American national security is at risk if the defense cuts are triggered in early January. "First of all, the sequester is not something I proposed, it's something that Congress proposed," Obama said. "It will not happen."  

Liberal journalist Bob Woodward has confirmed that Obama's White House, not Congress, proposed the sequester.

UPDATE II - Does Boehner actually have the votes for Plan B?  Maybe not.  Read Ramesh Ponnuru's limited defense of the proposal, and if you're still opposed, please respond to this question from Allahpundit:

If Plan B fails, there are two options left: Some sort of deal with Obama in which Democratic votes replace Republican defectors, or a Republican cave on tax rates under tremendous pressure after we go over the cliff. (If you think an Obama cave is more likely, explain to me why.) But if the bill does fail, why would Obama offer Boehner new concessions and rescue him from a major political embarrassment? A talking point about “obstructionist Republicans” obstructing their own Speaker will have fallen into his lap — and he’s going to give it away by upping his offer in order to strike a deal before New Year’s?