2012 was the first class-warfare election of our new Gilded Age. The first since the middle class has come to understand, in the words of new Senator-elect Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), that the “rules are rigged against it.” Business-as-usual may no longer be acceptable.
But Washington didn’t get the memo. Even as ballots were still being counted in Palm Beach, Florida, the two parties lurched into the fierce debate over the fiscal cliff, the noxious brew of automatic spending cuts and expiring tax cuts that would poison the recovery. The debate, a dismal sequel to the 2011 debt ceiling melodrama, focuses on deficits not jobs. Once more, Republicans are threatening to blow up the recovery unless Democrats make otherwise unacceptable concessions. Once more, President Barack Obama looks for a “grand bargain,” seeking bipartisan support for terms divorced from opinion outside the beltway. Once more, what Scott Galupo at The American Conservative called the “clown show” of the House Republican caucus blows itself up.
Republicans are the most clueless about this new reality. The election’s one clear mandate, confirmed in polls ever since, was for Obama’s oft-repeated pledge to let the Bush tax cuts expire on those earning more than $250,000. Yet, House Republicans stood staunch in defense of the very rich – refusing to pass their own speaker’s bill to extend the tax breaks on everyone except millionaires.
This came after House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) spent weeks insisting that Republicans would allow the Bush tax breaks to expire on the richest Americans only if the president agrees to cut Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, the core pillars of family security.
When the president came perilously close to giving him yes for an answer, Boehner broke off talks to get House Republicans to vote on his “Plan B” extension of all tax cuts for income under $1 million a year. But, with near Keystone Cop incompetence, House Republicans then blew up their own speaker’s plan. They recoiled at the horror of raising taxes on millionaires – though they could also eliminate the automatic spending cuts for the Pentagon, while doubling them on education, food safety and other domestic programs. Stunned, Boehner sent Congress home for Christmas, telling the media “God only knows” what will happen next.