Had I been a member of Congress, I would have voted against the fiscal cliff deal that passed the House earlier today. Given the current political environment, I could accept the higher taxes on the “wealthiest Americans”, had Democrats finally agreed to real spending cuts.
But, they haven’t; they’ve just kicked the can down the road. Democrats just aren’t willing to face the fiscal crisis facing our country, a fiscal crisis largely of their own creation. (Until the election of a Democratic Congress in 2006, deficits had been declining for three successive years–a fact of which many Americans, including a good number of Republicans, remain ignorant.)
I haven’t been following the debate as closely as I normally follow political issues because, well, I’m on vacation and would rather spend time with my family or read a book on Hawai’ian mythology than follow politics, especially given the media coverage of this issue.
President Barack Obama effectively took us to the cliff and many in the media are giving him a free pass. We are here because he and his Democrats ramped up spending in the first two years of his term when his party had large majorities in both houses of Congress and now are effectively asking Republicans to join them in paying for his spending spree.
And as they ramped up spending, Obama Democrats, to borrow an expression, gave us a vast expansion of the federal government they didn’t pay for.
Their fiscal irresponsibility notwithstanding, thanks in large part to the slanted coverage of the fiscal cliff negotiations — and to Speaker John Boehner’s reluctance to make the Republican case to the public — Democrats won this thing. And not just legislatively.
But, should Republicans play their cards right, it could well prove to be a Pyrrhic victory. In the 2012 election, Obama really only had one big issue which seemed to resonate with voters, that of raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans. He no longer has that issue and he hasn’t even begun his second term.
In a great piece on the left and the cliff, Yuval Levin concludes with the crucial questions, “Now they have gotten their tax increase, and what has it gained them but the prospect of an even slower economy? What’s their game plan?”
Exactly. What is their plan?
“Having discovered an effective political wedge in the tax debate,” Levin writes,
. . . the Democrats have now basically used it up and gotten awfully little in return. They can’t begin to acknowledge that the levels of spending they want to sustain will require a far greater tax burden on far more people (and in a far more regressive way) than today’s code, and if they can’t even state what they want out loud then they’re not likely to get it.
And Republicans need to remind Americans that if they want the goodies the Democrats keep promising, raising taxes on the rich won’t be enough to sustain them. They need force Obama and his Democrats to confront the issue they’ve been dodging–that we can’t fund the level of government they want just by raising taxes on the “rich.”
This tax hike won’t solve the nation’s debt problem, indeed, will barely put a dent in the deficits as Levin reports that the “deal is projected to yield $620 billion in revenue over a decade—increasing projected federal revenue by about 1.7% over that time.” (Read the whole thing.)
Bottom line is this: Obama has tried to demagogue the debt issue, suggesting that the only problem is the “rich” not paying their “fair share.” He knows the tax issue is toxic and has tried to style himself a tax cutter. But, to pay for the levels of government he has proposed, it’s not enough to raise taxes not the top 2%, even as he suggested it is. Now that he has, as Levin put it, used up this “wedge issue,” he and his Democrats will have to confront a continued sorry fiscal state of affairs.
The wedge issue gone, he can’t demagogue the supposedly low level of taxation on the wealthiest Americans.
I don’t like this deal. It stinks, but it does deprive the Democrats of a key issue — and gives the Republicans an opportunity, if only they will take it.