Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner did what Washingtonians call the “full Ginsburg” on Sunday. The term refers to Monica Lewinsky’s lawyer, William H. Ginsburg, who was the first to appear on all five network Sunday interview shows in one day. Mr. Geithner’s whirlwind tour revealed more of the White House’s endgame for the fiscal cliff negotiations, and it’s evident President Obama is positioning himself to the left of his own party.
For the first time, Mr. Geithner revealed to Fox News’ Chris Wallace the White House determination to raise the top income tax rate all the way to the Clinton-era level of 39.6 percent and that the administration won’t budge. Mr. Geithner wants to limit deductions for the top income bracket to further stick it to small-business owners, explaining there’s no chance of any agreement unless the GOP gives in to all these tax hikes.
CBS’ Bob Schieffer asked the treasury secretary whether Democrats would support all these tax increases, Mr. Geithner said, “Oh, yeah, absolutely,” adding that there was “broad-based support now and recognition of the need to let rates go up to the Clinton levels” for income tax, estate tax, capital gains and dividend taxes.
Not so fast. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s spokesman, Don Stewart, asked reporters: “Did Secretary Geithner — or anyone in the administration — actually check with the numerous Senate Democrats who have opposed these types of tax hikes about switching their positions against such a massive tax hike on small businesses, farmers and ranchers?” It seems they did not. The Senate Democrats have been noticeably silent since word leaked of Mr. Obama’s demand for $1.6 trillion in new taxes, which is twice as much as he has asked for previously.
In fact, the powerful chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, told the Great Falls Tribune that he is working to keep the current death tax levels — 35 percent of estates over $5 million — as opposed to the president’s proposed 45 percent of estates over $3.5 million. Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana backed up Mr. Baucus’ position last week, telling the Wall Street Journal that she would vote against any final deal that raised the death tax. Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas concurred with his colleagues last week.
Mr. Geithner claimed his proposal was a “balanced deal” because it included nonspecific savings in health care mandatory programs that were in Mr. Obama’s budget. When this came to a vote in the Senate earlier this year, it failed to get a single Democratic vote.
Even so, Mr. Geithner admitted the savings wouldn’t affect the current debt crisis and the numbers didn’t include the $200 billion in new stimulus spending the administration wants. “We’ve put out detailed reforms to entitlements that total $600 billion over 10 years, that build gradually over time because they’re phased in carefully,” he said on CBS. “So the outer year savings are getting larger than that in that context.”
The term “outer year” is code in Washington. It means never. Mr. Obama’s opening bid in the fiscal cliff negotiations wasted precious time. A plan that couldn’t get past the Democratic Senate, much less the Republican House, isn’t a serious offer. It’s about time the president stops playing political games and does something that will actually help the economy.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.