A Contrary View: Fiscal Cliff Deal a Win for Republicans and America
As a recent critic myself of Republican leadership, I would like to congratulate Speaker Boehner, Leader Cantor and the entire Republican leadership in the House and the Senate. They have succeeded in luring the President and his minions into a deal they will come to regret
All the wise guys disagree with me. Of course, the progressive media are crowing about President Obama's great victory. They are touting his brilliant negotiating skills. They are positively giddy with schadenfreude for conservatives.
Yet what we're not hearing is that the Democrats have used every weapon in their arsenal...and they have now officially endorsed the validity of the core Bush tax cuts. There is no sunset provision this time. They got very little in return. Forget the "$640B in tax increases to $40B in spending cuts" description. It looks bad, but it is really a stroke of genius.
Of course, there is plenty to suggest that we're not dealing with a pretty picture here. The terms of political debate nowadays are so subjective that it is impossible to know what any of the numbers mean without careful study. Are various numbers referring to ten years or one year? If they are ten-year numbers, how likely are they to be even close to correct? What is the baseline against which the impact of a tax law change is measured? Is it yesterday's law or today's? How does it interact with other rules? Do you really think you know its impact in 2017? Those are just some of the flaws in the ongoing fiscal debate.
It is a rare statute that has a single purpose. How bad do the side provisions have to be in order to poison the main focus of the law? The main trade-off in the current law is make permanent (haha) most of the Bush tax brackets in return for raising the top bracket from 35% to 39.6% on income over $400,000.
The bill seems to be only 40 pages long, but it consists of 9 Titles and 92 sections. Most sections refer to other statutes, which are being amended. Other relevant features are preserving some of the capital gains and dividend preferences. The 2% payroll tax cut is not extended. The death tax is lowered slightly. Various tax credits for lower incomes are made permanent. Barely relevant is keeping extended unemployment benefits for a year. I wish it were easy to tease out the rest of the bill so easily, but life is short, and to understand the full impact would require reading hundreds of pages of legalese.
So again, how bad do the side features have to be to change one's vote? I certainly give full credit to Cantor and the rest of the nays for sticking to principle. I also give full credit to Boehner and the ayes for deciding that the pain of not restoring most of the Bush tax cuts is too high a price to pay for not getting the bad parts of the bill.
I have heard the most horrible things said about Paul Ryan for siding with Boehner. He is the one man in the Republican Party who has actually tried to really solve the long term fiscal problem. It is oh so easy to be a loudmouth fiscal hawk; just advocate sweeping across-the-board cuts which even a dictator would have a hard time selling to the people. Yes, let's just cut social Security and Medicare by 10% next year and see how we do in the election.
The 39.6% bracket fight is mainly a symbolic issue. It surely will hurt the economy, but nowhere near as badly as not restoring the other Bush tax cuts. Now, is it tempting to argue for letting the cuts all expire. Maybe a recession would knock some sense into the American people for 2016. Or maybe they would just blame the GOP. That's a hell of gamble to take.
History is not on our side. The Democrats are consummate liars and knaves. Their lifeblood is crony capitalism. Is it really worth throwing a few million more people out of work just to punish them for their vote? The opponents of Boehner's tactical retreat are playing with fire. Why do you think the Democrats wanted this "compromise"? They didn't want the recession, either. They might have to shoulder the blame. Voters are hard to figure. After a decade of cursing Bush for his tax-cut -- blaming him for the crisis in 2008 -- they are all but admitting that the cuts contributed to the strong pre-2008 Bush economy. I'll bet Paul Krugman is livid.
What about the charge that a better negotiator would have gotten more out of Obama? Color me unimpressed with the proposed CPI change. Future events could easily flip its impact. Could we have gotten a top rate of 38%, or a top bracket of $700,000? Could we have done a little better on the death tax? It is entirely possible, but so what? The important thing is that it will be difficult to undo the Bush tax cuts absent a sweeping victory for the Democrats in 2016. If we can't prevent that, pray tell, what deal would be better?
All great generals have had to resort to tactical retreats at times. In the best of cases, the result is to lure the enemy into a trap. That is what just happened. Watch for progressive buyer's remorse to set in as the debt ceiling closes in. It will take great skill and finesse to win this next battle, but we hold the upper hand. Even without the debt limit, no appropriation can be made without the House concurring. Let that sink in.
It is time to start preparing the appropriation bills. Let the Senate demur. Let the president veto. It is not necessary to shut down the entire government. Pass no more omnibus spending bills or continuing resolutions. Crank up our public relations machine. Explain the details of these narrowly focused appropriations. There is no need to argue that more spending would be bad, if only we could afford it. Most people understand the need to make tough spending choices. Certainly there is a hard core of parasites and entitlement junkies who don't care. Let's hope it is not as high as 47% of the population.
In closing, let me say that I claim no window into the future. Ten-year plans are unreliable at best, dangerous at worst. Anyone who cares about actually winning the ongoing fight with progressivism should join as broad a coalition as we can muster. No egos. No pride in winning arguments among ourselves. And a special message to the gloom-and-doomers: shut up! You are giving aid and comfort to the enemy. We have a war to fight.