Boehner’s Fumble

by Ramesh Ponnuru

House Republican leader John Boehner was asked to answer the charge that Republicans were holding an extension of the middle-class tax cuts “hostage” to get tax cuts on the rich extended, too, and said that if forced to vote for just the middle-class tax cuts he would. I agree with Matthew Continetti that Boehner’s response was needlessly defensive.

If I were Boehner–and of course I have the luxury of hindsight–I would have answered with something like this: “Look, we have all known for years that taxes were scheduled to rise. Republicans have been trying for years to stop that from happening. If the Democrats wanted to extend the middle-class tax cuts they could have done so at any point in the last two years. The reason we are only a few months away from a tax increase is that they haven’t. Even today, when they say they want to keep the middle-class tax cuts, they are not moving a bill to do that. And they’re not allowing a vote on keeping all the tax cuts because they’re afraid it would pass.

“Here’s the difference between the parties on this issue right now. Democrats want to blame us for a tax increase. Republicans want to stop a tax increase.”

One thing Boehner wouldn’t need to say: If middle-class taxes go up, Republicans have a natural advantage in the spin wars: Selling the public on the idea that “the Republicans raised your taxes” is just harder than selling it on the idea that “the Democrats raised your taxes.” That would be the case even if the Democrats’ spin were true.

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