A week ago, President Obama and John Boehner appeared on the verge of a deal to avoid the perils of the “fiscal cliff.” The House speaker budged on raising tax rates. In return, he wanted the president to give on reducing entitlement spending. The president countered with a proposal that moved closer to Boehner on the threshold for higher income taxes, annual incomes of $400,000 instead of $250,000. He also accepted a reasonable adjustment in the cost-of-living increases for Social Security recipients that would reduce benefits and save money, adding to the $1 trillion in spending reductions already in the works through the Budget Control Act.
The president rightly described the emerging framework as a “fair deal.” An additional day or two of give and take, plus steps to handle such items as extending unemployment benefits and the “doc fix,” which would avoid sharp reductions in Medicare reimbursement, and the country could breathe easier. The Washington crowd would prove better than dysfunctional.
All of the related challenges may not be addressed, but something of a framework would be established for moving forward.
Then, things spun downward, the speaker walking away from his talks with the president, the week ending with an echo of the debt-ceiling debacle of 2011, when Boehner didn’t have the votes in the House Republican caucus for an emerging “grand bargain.” This past week, he didn’t have the votes, either. He didn’t even have them for his Plan B, which set the threshold for an income tax increase at $1 million a year, while whacking spending and tax relief for lower- and middle-income families, eliminating, among other things, the college tax credit and child-care tax credit.
In the wake of an embarrassing downgrade of the country’s credit rating and an election in which Boehner and his party lost ground, those truly in charge of the House majority still resist what is necessary: a balanced approach to putting the country’s fiscal house in order, one alert to the immediate need of a struggling economy yet committed to deficit-reduction in the long term.
U.S. Rep. Steve LaTourette of Bainbridge Township understands the required course. The Washington Post noted that Boehner recognized the lost cause when Jim Renacci and others in the Ohio delegation balked even at Plan B.
What did the speaker hope to achieve, Plan B certain to die in the Democratic-controlled Senate? Perhaps he thought approval of a minimal tax increase would shine a brighter light on spending cuts. Yet the reality is, moving ahead requires old-fashioned compromise, a more balanced combination of spending reductions and tax increases as the foundation for addressing the fiscal cliff. Leading business leaders have said as much. So have Americans via votes and polls. The president offered a way to govern responsibly. Too many House Republicans weren’t interested.