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Craig Frucht | Road to November

On the cliff’s edge

Published: Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, December 4, 2012 08:12

 

By the time we return to school in January, all of our families may be juggling thousands of dollars in tax increases alongside Tufts’ already mountain-like tuition payments.

The fiscal cliff negotiations are going even worse than most analysts predicted they would. The talks are stalemated, and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R.-Ohio) is frantically trying to push a narrative that President Barack Obama’s intransigence is to blame for the stalemate. “The President’s idea of negotiation is: Roll over and do what I ask,” Boehner grumbled.

But while the White House has made it clear that it won’t accept any deal that does not include some increase in top marginal income tax rates, the amount by which they increase, Obama has said, is negotiable. Boehner has said Republicans will not consider a compromise that includes any increase in tax rates. So exactly which party is being intransigent?

Boehner’s case is not helped by the fact that public opinion polls show that most Americans want those tax rates to increase, or by his party’s failure to win the presidency or increase representation in either chamber of Congress.

It’s true that President Obama’s negotiating position is one that he knows Republicans will never accept: He’s asking for $1.6 trillion in new tax revenues, $200 billion in additional unemployment benefits and other stimulus and for the top marginal rates to revert back to 39.6 percent.

But that’s a bargaining position, not an ultimatum. It’s no less extreme than the one Republicans have taken to begin negotiations. The difference is that, unlike Boehner, Obama has indicated a willingness to sacrifice some aspects of his platform.

So it’s hard to take seriously the recent histrionic displays of shock coming from Boehner, who took to Fox News last week to declare himself “flabbergasted” at Obama’s temerity. That’s really just political theater meant to distract constituents from the fact that dragging the country to the brink of economic ruin has become the House of Representative’s primary modus operandi under his leadership.

Last summer, the world was treated to the humiliating spectacle of the U.S. debt ceiling negotiations, in which Congressional Republicans arbitrarily made permitting the government to borrow enough money to pay off debts it already incurred contingent upon demands for future spending cuts.

The crisis that followed, which resulted in the first-ever credit-rating downgrade in U.S. history, was completely manufactured by Congress. The impact of the deficit reduction it achieved is so meager it hardly bears mentioning. And it shouldn’t take an economic expert to figure out why that is. Tax cuts and deficit reduction simply aren’t compatible policy objectives. Deficit reduction is for the long-term health of the nation; it will do nothing to help the recovery in the short-term.

So here we are again. Boehner refuses to allow a House vote on extending the Bush tax cuts for the middle class — which both parties agree is critical to averting a recession — because it would jeopardize what feeble leverage his party has to implement two cornerstones of its agenda that happen to be in fundamental conflict with one another.

But congressional Republicans know they will take the brunt of the blame if everyone’s tax rates go up. This week, there have been whispers in Republican circles about extending middle class tax cuts before New Year’s, and then saving the issues of top marginal tax rates and entitlement reform for the next year’s vote on increasing the debt ceiling.

In other words, we avert disaster until the next opportunity arrives for Boehner’s Republicans to manufacture a crisis. Because that’s the only way Congress gets anything done these days.

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Craig Frucht is a senior majoring in political science and psychology. He can be reached at Craig.Frucht@tufts.edu.

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