In Fiscal Cliff Talks, Republicans Have Nowhere to Run

Richard Eskow

Right-wingers are in an uproar over the White House’s budget offer, which John Boehner says left him “flabbergasted.” Outraged pundits like Joe Scarborough, Charles Krauthammer, and Newt Gingrich are saying that Republicans should “walk away” from negotiations.  Boehner has come close to that position himself, saying of the talks: “We’re nowhere.”

With all due respect, Sir: Speak for yourself.

Democrats are somewhere – somewhere very specific. They’re where the voters are, with a program that includes short-term stimulus spending and relatively modest tax increases for higher levels of income.  And yet the Republicans are threatening to run from the will of the electorate, a will that was expressed very clearly this November.

But where, in the words of the old song, are they gonna run to?

The Scope of Their Defeat

A walkout would turn House Republicans into democracy’s “runaway brides” – except nobody asked for their hand.  As a detailed analysis by David Wasserman of the Cook Report shows, the GOP didn’t just lose the Presidential and Senatorial votes this year. They lost the popular vote for the House, too. To the extent that Republicans have any right to be at the negotiating table at all, it’s as junior partners.

And yet we have reached the winter of Mr. Krauthammer’s disrespectful discontent. “It’s not just a bad deal,” said Krauthammer, it’s “really an insulting deal.”

“Robert E. Lee was offered easier terms at Appomattox,” Krauthammer added, “and he lost the Civil War.”

Mr. Krauthammer might like to bone up on his American history: Lee’s army was disbanded at the Appomattox courthouse, and all acts of insurrection ceased. It’s true that his officers were allowed keep their horses and sidearms, and to return home … but they were on parole.

Parole: That’s a good way to look at the current state of the Republican Party.  They lost the Presidency by 4,500,000 votes, the Senate by nearly 13 million votes – and lost the House by 570,000 votes. Their influence over the Senate derives mainly from their routine abuse of Senatorial procedures, while their control of the House is the product of abusive gerrymandering.

And yet Krauthammer wasn’t the only conservative in a snit. Another runaway Republican, Newt Gingrich, said the House GOP should “back out of all negotiating with Obama.  And Joe Scarborough said Republicans should “just stop talking” with the President. Like Krauthammer, he considered the offer an “insult.”

Somebody ought to review the election results with them.

Majority Rules

Far from being an insult, the President’s opening bid is reasonable and respectful. It includes $50 billion in stimulus spending in 2013, and continues stimulus-producing middle class tax cuts. It ends the higher-income tax breaks which have failed to provide jobs or growth,  while depriving the government of funds which can be used to create jobs and provide important services. No Social Security cuts are offered.

In an ideal world, bolder spending and taxation initiatives would be on the table. But the President’s proposal clearly reflects the will of the majority, as reflected at the ballot box and in our post-election polling.

Our poll showed that an overwhelming majority of voters – including a slim majority of Republicans – would find it “unacceptable” not to raise taxes on millionaires. Majorities in both parties also think it’s more important to invest in growing the economy at this point than it is to reduce the deficit. And an overwhelming number of voters, including nearly two-thirds of all Republicans, reject any reductions in Social Security’s cost-of-living adjustment. (They’ve rejected other cuts even more conclusively in earlier polls.)

Playground Showdown

So what are the Republicans really worked up about? As Rachel Maddow noted, “for years Obama hoped to strike deals by being conciliatory, starting with opening offers designed to satisfy Republican demands. These efforts repeatedly failed miserably, and only emboldened GOP leaders to demand agreements tilted heavily in their favor.”

Remember how outraged the class bully used to get whenever somebody fought back? That’s what this Republican indignation looks like.

The President’s finally using experience, and the fruits of a decisive Democratic victory, to negotiate from a tougher stance.  And Tim Geithner, whatever his other shortcomings, is proving adept at delivering the Administration’s new and firmer messages.  “The ball really is with them now,” Geithner said this weekend of House Republicans. “They’re in a hard place … This is very difficult for them. And we might need to give them a little more time …”

Like the country song says, “How do you like me now?”

Nowhere Man

Despite her official designation as “Minority Leader,” Nancy Pelosi speaks for a majority of voters. Gotta love her latest comments about the GOP’s lack of cooperation. “This delay is harmful to confidence for consumers, Pelosi said. “It’s harmful to confidence for the markets.”

We call that “rhetorical jujitsu” – using your opponents’ arguments against them. And Leader Pelosi is certainly right about consumers, who are the key to any lasting recovery. Consumer activity fell dramatically in the last round of economic reports.

The GOP is boxed in – as long as Democrats hang tough. If Republicans really “run” from those talks, that will trigger the “fiscal cliff” provisions they’ve been describing in such apocalyptic terms. They can’t win: Either the “cliff” apocalypse won’t come, which will make them liars, or it will – which will make them destroyers of the economy.

And yet John Boehner says talks are at a “stalemate.” Maybe he hasn’t read the polls. Politically speaking, Mr. Boehner, iif there’s a stalemate you lose.  The only people that are “nowhere” right now are those who aren’t paying attention to what voters – including a majority of their own party’s members – want them to do.

If Republicans refuse to negotiate from the White House proposal, they’ll be refusing to negotiate with the electorate. They shouldn’t feel insulted by that offer. The real insult – the one that really must sting – is the one voters just gave them at the polls.

That’s something both sides should remember.

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