In a recent article in the Weekly Standard, Jeffrey H. Anderson outlines the new “conventional wisdom” now in vogue amongst the glitterati of the conservative beltway “elite”:
In poker, if you have a weak hand, you have two choices: fold or bluff. The problem for the Republican House is that this is like a crooked game of 7-card stud — most of the cards were dealt face-up, and a couple of the others are marked. In short, everybody can see that the GOP has a weak hand. Bluffing would be like trying a fake field goal when down 6 points with 3 seconds left in the game. Nobody would buy it. Obama, meanwhile, has a strong hand — as everyone can also see — and he’s not bluffing.
The reason why Obama has a strong hand is not because he just won a whopping 50.6 percent of the popular vote and 26 of the 50 states. No, he has a strong hand because what will happen on New Year’s Day if no deal is reached is that taxes will be hiked about $4 for every $1 in spending cuts. More specifically, every taxpaying American will see his or her taxes rise, while defense spending will be rather dramatically cut. Do you think Obama could live with that?…
So, my advice to House Republicans is to fold — or at least don’t raise the ante. Don’t push your luck, and don’t pick this moment of weakness as the time to seek a “grand bargain.” Make Obama own this. You don’t have to vote for raising taxes on the wealthy (they’ll be raised anyway); just vote to stop the tax hike on the middle class. If Obama’s tax hikes on the wealthy hurt the economy like you say they will, it’ll be crystal clear who’s to blame. Fold and wait for better cards on the next deal. (They can’t be much worse.) Nothing decided this time around will do much of anything to avoid our going over the real fiscal cliff anyway. Wait and risk your chips when the real drivers of our debt are actually at stake. That’s the smart, conservative play.
By all means read the whole sorry article.
The problem with Surrender Monkeys like Mr. Anderson and his boss Bill Kristol isn’t that, in the end, Republicans won’t be forced to accept tax hikes on the rich. Indeed, that might be the best deal the GOP can get out of Mr. Obama after so badly misplaying their deficit hand for the past two years. On this, the defeatists may be right. The problem is that while this may be what we settle for at the end of the day, publicly announcing surrender before negotiations even start is no way to wage the tactical fight. The way to win the day is to win the PR battle by going from defense to offense using a two pronged strategy.
First, Paul Ryan should be tasked with finding specific spending cuts that will be more palatable to the public than the cuts that sequestration will wreak on the Defense department. Once those cuts are found and publicized, Boehner should immediately force an up or down vote on these replacement cuts in the House. This will set ups a situation where House Democrats must choose whether to vote for pork or national defense. By forcing the Democrats to defend their favorite domestic goodies, the GOP will have a stronger hand in negotiations to avoid the cuts to our military that even Defense Secretary Panetta agrees would be devastating.
Secondly, we must employ what I like to call the “Instapundit” tax gambit. Glenn Harlan Reynolds proposed this excellent idea in an article this past August. This strategy is aimed at attacking the wealthy patrons of the Democratic party in a way that maximizes revenue without destroying job creators. This new package of “revenue enhancements” should be designed to match the revenue gained from the rate hike increase that Obama wants. They would consist of targeted tax increases that attack specific Democrat interest groups who are politically unpopular with the public.
For example, Republicans should call for an end to the deductibility of mortgage interest above $500,000. The burden of paying this new tax would mostly fall on people who live in high cost “Blue” states and other wealthy swells who live in districts that voted overwhelmingly for Obama. The next order of business would be to reinstate the excess profits tax on the Hollywood’s movie and entertainment industry. Make the Democrats defend Kim Kardashian over local small business people. Continue with the theme of excess profits taxes and go after another unpopular sector of American society: lawyers. Tax contingency fees for legal judgments over $10 million and force Democrats to defend their rich lawyer allies. Finally, end the deductibility of local and state taxes so that the vast majority of Americans in lower tax states are not forced to subsidize the reckless and profligate spending of the “Blue” state politicians and public employee unions. If they want to persist with bankrupting their states, that’s fine, but the rest of us don’t need to help fund it.
The Instapundit Gambit will purposely target the Democrats in their Blue State strongholds where it hurts. A strategy such as this will allow the GOP to change the terms of the debate. If, as Jefferey Anderson predicts, Republicans are going to be forced to accept tax increases, then change the nature of the dicussion. Far better to talk about exactly which rich people should bear the burden of tax increases, than just fold your hand. Would the public rather tax rich swells in their large homes, decadent Hollywood celebrities and moguls, ambulance chasing fat cat lawyers and wealthy residents of profligate states or the small businesses that create the jobs the public so desperately needs and desires? That’s a political debate we can win while making Democrats squirm at the same time.
Once this two pronged approach passes the House, the GOP should then declare on each of the five Sunday news programs that they have successfully averted the fiscal cliff without adversely impacting job creators or the national defense. They should publicly declare that having accomplished this and saved the country from another recession, they await the Democrat response. Only then can negotiations begin in earnest so that the bi-partisan solution that the public desires can be forged.
The goal of Republicans should be to make Democrats come up with numbers of their own that can be scrutinized as partisanly as Democrats have skewered responsible Republican legislation. At the very worst, forcing either the White House or the Senate to propose an actual package will provide plenty of ammunition to aid the GOP in waging the PR battle over the best package of “cuts” and tax hikes should be adopted to avoid the fiscal cliff. That is the only way a true negotiation can take place. If we just fold without forcing the Democrats to show their hand, they will win without being forced to pay a political price.
Rather than just surrendering, Boehner and House Republicans should start playing hard ball with the Democrats force them to make some unpalatable political choices for a change. Unless they fight using the same kinds of tactics that Democrats use so successfully, they will continue to get rolled in the larger war over the size of the debt and deficits. Until so called “conservatives” like Mr. Kristol and Mr. Anderson understand that playing real political poker means utilizing every tool and weapon at your disposal, spineless and unimaginative Republicans like John Boehner will continue to negotiate against themselves and fritter away the one issue that can lead to a Republican resurgence in 2014.