In the fiscal cliff negotiations, Republican politicians are facing an existential choice, and they’re showing signs of stress and fracture because of it. President Obama has already put his neck out. To bring the federal deficit down, he wants increased taxes on the richest 2% of Americans. Raising taxes, even on the rich, is never a risk-free proposition, politically. But President Obama has declared his position.
Now it’s the leaders of the Republican Party’s turn. What, exactly, do they want?
To bring the deficit down, they’ve said they want cuts in discretionary spending and entitlement programs. But the devil is in the details.
What, exactly, do they want to cut?
That’s the Republican cliff. If they declare what they want to cut, they’ll invariably upset key constituents.
So what are their options? Here are the most obvious ones:
- To avoid the hard choices on spending cuts, Republicans can simply give the president what he wants. They can send him a bill to sign that makes the Bush tax cuts permanent for 98% of Americans and be done with it. Fiscal cliff averted. Live to fight another day.
- Stall. Demand that the President declare what he wants to cut. If he’s stupid enough to do this (and he’s not), then you can run against Democrats in 2014 and 2016 with a distinct advantage: you can call them the party that both raised taxes and first proposed specific cuts in popular spending programs. Of course, that won’t happen.
- Declare what you want to cut and defend your position (and expect to be hammered for it in future elections).
- Do nothing. Let the country go over the fiscal cliff and hope you aren’t blamed.
My bet: something along the lines of option one. It’s safe, it’s clean, it has no caffeine. But it’s certainly no profile in courage. It would be nice if, not just the Republicans, but President Obama as well, could do better than this.
My vote: a Bowles-Simpson style deal that actually brings the deficit down four or five trillion dollars over ten years.