‘Operation Humiliation’

by Rich Lowry

I wrote about the fiscal cliff today in Politico. Short version: the Republicans are in a horrendous position: 

Back during the 2008 Democratic primaries, Rush Limbaugh launched Operation Chaos. Four years later, President Barack Obama has embarked on Operation Humiliation.

It is coming off without a hitch.

Stage One was to dispatch his treasury secretary to Capitol Hill to make a laughable offer to Republicans on the fiscal cliff — literally. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reported that he burst out laughing upon hearing Tim Geithner spell out the White House’s terms.

Stage Two is watching Republicans squirm, squabble and panic. Less than a week after the hilarity courtesy of Geithner, The New York Times headlined a front-page piece, “GOP Looks for Fallback to Avoid a Fiscal Standoff.”

But it’s still amazing how fast the conventional wisdom has shifted to the expedient of just giving in on rates and getting nothing in return. Some Republicans tell themselves they will be in a stronger position in the debt-ceiling fight. That may be right. Raising the debt ceiling is not popular whereas raising taxes on the rich is. Republicans will be able to say the president already got his way on taxes, and now it’s time for spending cuts in exchange for raising the ceiling, in keeping with “the Boehner rule.” I’m not so sure. President Obama will presumably offer the same deceptive mix of spending cuts and tax increases he always offers, demanding the other $800 billion portion of the $1.6 trillion in revenue he wants now. And when Republicans balk, he’ll accuse them of taking the economy hostage (he’s already doing it), and the press will certainly go along and the public may buy it, too. So Republicans may retreat, not to higher ground, but to yet another retreat, and see their entire fiscal position collapse for at least the next two years. I’m not saying there are any great options here. But they will probably not recover leverage over the fiscal cliff unless they make it clear that they are willing to go over it with the president. That will almost certainly hurt them more politically, but it’s going to hurt the president, too. 

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