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Fiscal cliff Plan C: Let Democrats find compromise. Huh?

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Jacquelyn Martin/AP

(Read caption) House Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R) of Ohio pauses while speaking to the media about the fiscal cliff on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Thursday. Any deal with President Obama is off, at least until after Christmas.

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All over an unwillingness to convince his colleagues to let tax rates come back up (as scheduled) on (even) the very richest, any “deal” between Boehner and Obama is off – at least until after Christmas:

House Speaker John A. Boehner threw efforts to avoid the year-end “fiscal cliff” into chaos late Thursday, as he abruptly shuttered the House for the holidays after failing to win support from his fellow Republicans for a plan to let tax rates rise for millionaires.

The proposal — Boehner’s alternative to negotiating a broader package with President Obama — would have protected the vast majority of Americans from significant tax increases set to take effect next year. But because it also would have permitted tax rates to rise for about 400,000 extremely wealthy families, conservatives balked, leaving Boehner (Ohio) humiliated and his negotiating power immeasurably weakened.

The Post article goes on to quote from Boehner’s issued statement:

“The House did not take up the tax measure today because it did not have sufficient support from our members to pass. Now it is up to the president to work with Reid on legislation to avert the fiscal cliff,” the statement said, referring to Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.).

But how will it help to leave the Senate Democrats to work with the President on a plan?  The whole problem has been the lack of bipartisanship and the willful disregard for “common ground” policies that both sides could not exactly “love” but at least come to tolerate.

Maybe over the Christmas break the politicians can sit back and ponder what their own personal roles in this impasse have been and the choices they’ve made about the battles they’ve fought. There’s been much ado about the tax rates on the rich – should the top two brackets (affecting only those with incomes over about $250,000) be allowed to go back to pre-2001 levels, or only the top bracket (affecting those over about $400,000), or only the top rate for millionaires? 

All those options would produce only a fraction of the deficit reduction required to get us back on an economically sustainable path – at best, a “downpayment” on what will have to be a grander bargain eventually (but soon).  The real money and the real (more) common ground lies in looking at the ways in which the federal government spends money (and “subsidizes” certain privileged activities) through the tax code. 

In this week’s installment of his always excellent New York Times column, Bruce Bartlett reiterates the point that tax expenditures grow government (so that Republicans should be in favor of cutting tax expenditures just like they favor cutting direct spending), while he also reminds readers that extending tax cuts and deficit financing them is not cutting taxes at all – it’s raising future taxes.

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As if as a society we have not been neglecting our kids’ well being enough already. All over what seems a silly, way overblown debate over the top income tax rates going from 30-some to 30-some percent.

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