The Republicans are looking for the best way to fall off Fiscal Cliff, which has become a place fixed in the geography of public opinion, like Sioux Falls and Grand Canyon. If a man can survive going over Niagara Falls (another famous fixed place) in a barrel, maybe the Republicans can survive falling off Fiscal Cliff in a barrel with House Speaker John A. Boehner.
The latest Republican gimmick is to split the difference on income-tax rates between the current rate of 35 percent and the Clinton-era rate of 39.6 percent — and with substantial cuts in government spending. This is the solution the pilots of an earlier generation might call "coming home on a wing and a prayer."
There's no indication that President Obama will bite, nor is there any reason why, from his point of view, he should. He has read the fear in Republican eyes and he's willing — maybe eager — to jump off the cliff in the sure and certain confidence that with the compliant mainstream media at his back, he can successfully pin the blame on the Republicans for the consequences.
He can even promise spending cuts, secure in the knowledge that he won't have to actually make them. Promises are a sucker's game, and there's no shortage of suckers. Mr. Obama clearly wants to humiliate the Republicans — re-election was not enough — and he and his Democratic allies think his victory on Nov. 6 arms him with a mandate to do as he pleases.
There's no longer an argument over whether to raise taxes, only by how much. Some of the Republicans eager to cave now and get the details of surrender out of the way talk bravely of demanding spending cuts as the price of higher taxes to finance the president's big-spending schemes, but they know in their hearts that actual spending cuts are a pipe dream. "Raise taxes first, cut spending later" is a scheme that has never worked. Republican presidents played that shell game, too.
But Rep. Dave Camp, Michigan Republican and chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, tells Politico that he is "reserving judgment" on such a scheme. "It depends on the entire package," he says. "What are the spending [cuts] going to be? You can't consider that on its own without looking at all the other factors that might go into it." We can take that as a probable yes, as soon as everybody indulges in a little more big talk.
Rep. Nan A.S. Hayworth, New York Republican, sounds ready to quit now, with a few goodbye cliches. "There's certainly a movement among us to accept that we indeed may have to not let perfect be the enemy of the good. If we can truly get a visionary plan, then I think we will certainly be happy to give that the most thoughtful consideration."
The Republicans, including the speaker, are negotiating as if they actually believe that Mr. Obama is negotiating in good faith. The speaker's offer of $800 billion in new taxes sank without a salute. The president insists on soaking "the rich," even though the most thorough soaking wouldn't yield enough to make a sizable dent in either debt or deficit. But it satisfies Mr. Obama's cult of covetousness, cupidity and spite, which dreams of a scorched-earth class war, and would redeem all his speeches from his community-organizing days.
Mr. Obama called in the Business Roundtable this week for a little charm offensive. He told them that he's rooting for the success of big business because when big business does well, "then small businesses and medium-sized businesses up and down the chain are doing well." Someone should explain to the president that a strong economy is based on the jobs generated by small business, not big.
He repeated his mantra that only he holds the key to recovery. "What's holding us back right now," he told the assembled CEOs, "is a lot of stuff that is going on in this town. And I know that many of you have come here to try to see, is there any way we can break through this logjam. Nobody wants to get this done more than me."
Just do it his way.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, seems unimpressed. "An obsession to raise taxes isn't going to solve the problem. We can't just keep borrowing money and raising taxes and expecting the problem to go away. That is our point to the president."
That's precisely beside the president's point. He has bigger plans at Fiscal Cliff.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.
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