House Speaker John A. Boehner is trying to salvage what he can in the showdown with President Obama over the "fiscal cliff." To do so, he gave in to Mr. Obama's demand to raise income tax rates.
While the Ohio Republican said his offer was contingent on whether Mr. Obama delivered entitlement reform and spending cuts, the speaker is going forward with the hikes and only vague promises of spending cuts down the road. This is exactly the mistake the GOP made in 1982 and 1990.
The House will vote Thursday on the speaker's "Plan B," which would extend the current tax rates on everyone who makes less than $1 million. That means rates on those who make more than that limit would rise to the Clinton-era level of 39.6 percent. It also would keep rates on capital gains and dividend taxes at 15 percent for everyone except millionaires, who would pay 20 percent.
Mr. Obama rubbed salt in Republican wounds Wednesday, saying, "If you look at what the speaker has proposed, he's conceded that income tax rates should go up, except right now he only wants to have them go up for millionaires." The president's counteroffer was to raise taxes on everyone who makes more than $400,000.
It was unclear by Wednesday whether enough Republicans would be onboard for passage. Some in the caucus want to stick to principle and point out that the House already passed a one-year extension of all rates in August, with 19 Democrats voting in favor. Others in the caucus think compromise is inevitable and this millionaires' tax represents the best available deal.
It will help grease the skids in the whip count for Plan B that Grover Norquist's group, Americans for Tax Reform, said Wednesday it would not consider a violation of members' pledge not to vote to raise taxes. There's also likely to be a companion bill that would raise taxes on everyone who makes more than $200,000 individually to see if Democrats really want to go on the record backing that idea.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday that the House bill would never pass his chamber. While Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that he doesn't support any tax hikes, he took to the upper chamber's floor Wednesday to point out that 53 Senate Democrats voted two years ago for an amendment by Sen. Charles E. Schumer that would have extended all the income tax rates except for those who make more than $1 million.
Meanwhile, the White House released an official statement Wednesday indicating the president would veto the tax bill even if it passed both the House and Senate.
The problem with the GOP tax-bill strategy is that it will develop on Mr. Obama's playing field. The likely outcome is having the two sides meet in the middle with some arbitrary income level that defines who is "rich" for the purpose of bringing more cash to Washington.
Mr. Boehner's Plan B should have included language from the House budget on increasing the eligibility age for Medicare and means testing. He also should have included the House-passed reconciliation bill, which finds cuts in other mandatory programs. It's hard to see how this latest path will lead to anything but a deepening of our current economic malaise.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.
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