Opinion

Reihan Salam

After Boehner’s Plan B, crafting a new plan for Republicans

Reihan Salam
Dec 21, 2012 20:42 UTC

House Speaker John Boehner has struggled for weeks to unite his fellow Republicans around a deal to avert the fiscal cliff. Having failed to find a package of tax increases and spending cuts acceptable to the Obama administration and the House GOP, he pivoted to a politically shrewd “Plan B” that would have extended all of the Bush-era tax cuts except for the high-income rate reductions that applied to income above a $1 million threshold. But as Boehner and his lieutenants worked to rally support, they found that they didn’t have the votes to pass “Plan B.” And so Boehner has suffered what is widely regarded as a humiliating defeat, one that has left many observers wondering whether he can survive for long as speaker.

Whether or not Boehner manages to regain his standing with House Republicans, his defeat raises a number of more significant questions about where Republicans should go from here.

Until the next presidential election, Boehner and the House Republicans are the face of the GOP. There are, to be sure, a number of talented Republican governors, yet most of them are either deeply engaged with issues close to home or too obscure or low-wattage to have much of a national impact. All but a handful of House Republicans represent constituencies with substantial Republican majorities, thanks in no small part to the influence of Republican state legislators in drawing district boundaries. The GOP is thus likely to hold the House for years to come, even if Hillary Clinton wins the White House come 2016. Like it or not, conservatives need the House GOP to get its act together sooner rather than later. But how?

The first question is whether Republicans are right to oppose President Barack Obama at every turn. Very early in 2009, a number of House Republicans, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, were resigned to the notion that they would have to cooperate with President Obama given the size of his mandate. But the fight over the fiscal stimulus law stiffened the resolve of conservatives, who were convinced that the president had failed to argue in good faith. The president’s allies see this differently, of course. Many on the left believe that the House GOP was intransigent from the start. Another view, however, is that if the Obama administration had embraced substantial increases in defense procurement as part of the stimulus law, a large number of Republicans would have defected, giving the president a significant bipartisan victory. Regardless, distrust between the House GOP and the Obama White House ran deep, and it was exacerbated by the growing assertiveness of grassroots conservative activists and the debate over health system reform.

The expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts might represent an opportunity for a reset. One of the virtues of “Plan B” is that it was identical to a proposal that had been advanced by Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) last year, and so it could be characterized as bipartisan in inspiration. Moreover, it represented a concession to the political reality that a large majority of American voters favor tax increases on high-earners. But as Boehner’s GOP opponents understood, “Plan B” also represented an implicit endorsement of a tax increase. Expiration effectively means that Republicans can start with a clean slate, albeit at a higher tax rate.

Tax hikes conservatives can love

Reihan Salam
Dec 14, 2012 21:22 UTC

Though it is hard to tell exactly how the fiscal cliff tug-of-war will end, what we can say is that Democrats and Republicans have been drearily unimaginative. President Obama wants to see the top two federal income tax rates increase above their current levels.

Obama has called for a top rate of 39.6 percent, though he has signaled a willingness to compromise on a somewhat lower rate. While he has said he is open to entitlement reform in some vague way, he has so far refused to be pinned down on the details. Essentially, he is asking congressional Republicans to make a big concession on taxes and to trust that he will honor his end of the deal by agreeing to embrace spending restraint in 2013.

Republicans are by and large opposed to a top tax rate above today’s 35 percent. Though they too have been light on details, many have instead embraced sharp limits on popular tax exemptions for high earners to raise revenue. Others have suggested they’d be willing to budge on tax rates. Representative Tom Cole (R-OK) has called on his fellow House Republicans to pass two bills, one that extends the Bush-era high-income rate reductions and another that extends everything else, with the understanding that the latter will become law while the former will fall into oblivion. This strategic retreat is designed to allow Republicans to use the forthcoming fight over the debt limit to secure, among other things, a hike in the Medicare eligibility age.

Rubio: Reframing a conservative agenda

Reihan Salam
Dec 6, 2012 05:44 UTC

It will take many years for Republicans to live down presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s now infamous remarks about “the 47 percent,” that broad swath of Americans he wrote off as eager for handouts and unwilling to take responsibility for their own lives. But Tuesday, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), once widely touted as Romney’s ideal running mate, gave an extraordinary address that offered a very different message — one that could foreshadow the next Republican presidential campaign.

Rubio was elected to the Senate in 2010 as a stalwart Tea Party conservative, who drove his moderate opponent Charlie Crist out of the GOP after a fiercely contested primary. Since then, however, Rubio has steered clear of the confrontational rhetoric favored by many of his conservative allies. He has instead been championing the idea that the problem facing Republicans is not the shiftlessness of the 47 percent, but rather the party’s failure to speak to the aspirations of middle-income strivers.

During an address in Washington to the Jack Kemp Foundation, Rubio laid out a compelling diagnosis of the challenges facing American society. He began on a prosaic note, describing how the failure to reform Medicare today will necessitate more stringent cutbacks in the future and how America’s byzantine tax code and excessive regulation stifle growth. So far, so familiar.

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