GOP Strategy and the Fiscal Cliff
Both Speaker John Boehner and media analysts have been spun into a state of confusion by the fiscal cliff issue and President Obama's reelection. The fiscal cliff exists because the president and the GOP Congress could not decide in 2011 on a permanent general policy toward the budget. And now the president has added another factor: he is determined to usurp the Congressional authority to raise the debt ceiling.
If the budget goes over the cliff, two things will happen: tax rates on everyone will rise, and across the board spending cuts will be made. The strategy of Speaker Boehner seems to be to agree to some increases in taxes for the highest wage earners only, in exchange for palliating the president. Apparently, Speaker Boehner is afraid of being blamed for not cooperating with the president enough to avoid the dreaded fiscal cliff.
While they ponder their approach, GOP leaders need to keep several facts in mind. The most important fact is that President Obama is the biggest spender of public funds in history, and he has shown absolutely no willingness to make any significant cuts in spending programs. The fiscal cliff, then, offers the GOP the unprecedented opportunity to cut spending, something that is otherwise impossible to do with President Obama through compromise.
The second fact is that the president has the upper hand in the blame game. No matter how the fall over the cliff develops, the president will successfully use it to blame Republicans.
The third important fact is that the average American voter has not yet felt the impact of the ObamaCare tax increases that will be enacted Jan. 1, 2013, whether the cliff fall is averted or not. And more importantly, no matter how Mitt Romney tried to explain the negative effects of Obama's fiscal policies, the electorate voted for Obama. So the GOP needs to abandon the idea that they will be able to convince the electorate that Obama's policies will hurt working Americans.
The GOP should give up on trying to negotiate with the president. He shows no interest in doing anything but portraying them as the party of the rich. The GOP should instead turn their attention on post-cliff strategy, and what they can do now to preserve their party's hold on Congress.
Ron Paul has suggested that Republicans just vote "present" and then let the president own the fiscal debacle; that Americans will blame him down the road. But the 2012 election effectively proved that Americans don't blame Obama for the economy. No other president could have survived an eight percent unemployment rate. If another Recession follows, and unemployment rises, it is likely that voters will once again blame Republicans. But in reality since this would be nothing new, it should not be feared. They won't be hurt by it.
If the massive spending cuts and tax increases hurt the economy, the GOP should be less worried about who takes the blame, than about doing the right thing for the country. They have the unique opportunity to cut spending and will be blamed for the economy by the President and his media supporters no matter what they do.
The fiscal cliff talks reveal that the GOP has two bargaining chips that have any value: to refuse to go along with an uncooperative president, and to hold onto their power to set the debt limit. Constitutionally, Congress may not have the power to give up their authority to set the debt limit anyway.
Their best tactic may then be to do nothing, but for different reasons than Ron Paul proposed.
An additional consideration is that the effects of Obama's big policies changes and ObamaCare have not yet taken effect. If the GOP compromise with the president they then take the additional risk of being identified with Obama's fiscal policies. It is more likely that Obama will suffer bad public relations from ObamaCare than the GOP will from the fiscal cliff. All of these events have yet to play out, and if the GOP stands firm as the party that wants to cut spending, they will benefit by reinforcing their identity.
The GOP cannot play the blame game with Obama. For various reasons he is inoculated from blame, by both his own positioning as an outsider to the budget mess (having inherited it) and by the daily protection he receives from the media.
Other important but unlikely effects may follow: after the recession begins the media may turn against Obama and begin to blame him for the economy. But that, in view of the election results, seems unlikely. None of these scenarios are absolutely certain, and thinking them through requires suppositions and expectations that are not predictable.
The GOP must focus on post-cliff and post-Obama strategy. They should withdraw from a public relations battle they cannot win, and regroup to reaffirm their own identity as the party that cuts spending and taxes for all taxpayers. Their long-term strategic prospects look better than the immediate ones. Only once in Obama's nearly four-year tenure has his image faltered: immediately after the first debate with Romney. All of the fiscal cliff events, and the ObamaCare tax increases, may quickly erode his image. This is more likely to happen than the idea that Republicans can win the fiscal cliff bargaining/public relations game. In the meantime Speaker Boehner can only hurt the Republicans and the country by getting involved with negotiations with a president who has shown no inclination to negotiate.