The Campaign Spot

Does Anybody Besides Boehner Know What Boehner Is Doing?

From the Tuesday edition of the Morning Jolt:

Remember, there’s just ten shopping days until the Mayan apocalypse!

Does Anybody Besides Boehner Know What Boehner Is Doing?

Everybody’s got advice for House Speaker John Boehner. I suspect Marc Thiessen represents a new level of urgency and frustration within the GOP grassroots, as they see days slipping by, the fiscal cliff approaching, and few if any good options for the party:

Go on the offensive. Immediately put forward a plan to fundamentally reform the tax code. You will be able to outbid Obama and the Democrats in any tax-cut fight. And the intellectual groundwork has already been done. During the supercommittee negotiations last year, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) put forward a plan to lower rates, raise revenue and limit deductions. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) has a revenue-neutral corporate tax reform plan that lowers the rate to 25 percent and moves to a territorial system.

On the spending side, “soak the rich” by getting rid of the billions of dollars in government benefits, taxpayer subsidies and corporate welfare the wealthy receive each year and don’t need, and by means-testing government programs from unemployment benefits to farm subsidies.

On entitlements, put forward a plan to save Social Security and Medicare through structural reforms and by reducing benefits for well-off retirees and eliminating them entirely for the wealthiest seniors. Propose a “Buffett Rule” of your own: Warren Buffett does not need taxpayers to subsidize his retirement and health care.

On his radio program Monday, Sean Hannity was grinding his teeth over this aspect, arguing that it amounted to theft of wealthy people who had spent their lives paying into entitlement programs.

I suppose you could see it that way, but perhaps it’s good to go back and figure out the purpose of these programs in the first place. Why do we have Social Security? To provide income for retirees who can’t take care of themselves. Why do we have Medicare? To provide health care for retirees who can’t take care of themselves. Once you have a sufficiently high net worth, you can take care of yourself. So why shouldn’t Social Security benefits be eliminated for the wealthiest retirees? The left has always resisted this, fearing that if some citizens didn’t collect their benefits, they might not see it as a universal system and the public might be more amenable to additional reforms of the system.

Why yes, they would, wouldn’t they?

Anyway, back to Theissen:

STEP THREE: Pass your plans. If the president refuses to negotiate and no progress is made by February, inform him that you will attach all or part of your plan to legislation raising the debt limit and pass it in the House. Then do so. Obama will sign it. Here is why:

Unlike with the fiscal cliff, Republicans have all the leverage when it comes to the debt limit. Today, Obama is perfectly willing to go over the fiscal cliff and blame the GOP for the resulting tax increases on the middle class. But when it comes to the debt limit, he does not have that luxury. He can’t default on our debt — the consequences are too catastrophic. So in the end he will cave.

Raise your hand if you think you’ve spotted a flaw in the strategy here. Wow, lots of hands. Yes, you in the back.

“President Obama doesn’t fear catastrophic consequences, he embraces them! Because economic instability increases the general public’s dependency upon government, in a variation of the Cloward-Piven strategy to shift America to a more socialist system of economics!”

Yup, something like that. I don’t know just how committed Obama is to policies that undermine America’s economic health, but we know he doesn’t blink upon running up more than $5 trillion in debt in less than four years, $3.4 billion to $4 billion per day. We know he loves, loves, loves blaming Republicans for everything. We know he will blame Republicans for failure to pass immigration reform, bad jobs numbers, the deficit, the continuing housing crisis, gridlock in Washington, the debt panel’s failure to reach a deal, the difficulty of life for the unemployed, and the inability to build the Keystone Pipeline.

Now at some point, the public may get really tired of his “it’s never my fault” routine, and Obama might find himself in deep doo-doo. But so far, that hasn’t happened.

So if the House Republicans dig in their heels on a debt-ceiling fight, all the way up to the deadline, Obama might be okay with default and the ability to use them as a scapegoat for the remainder of his presidency, or embrace the various theories that there need not be a congressionally controlled debt limit at all:

If Obama should fail to secure a long-term solution to the debt ceiling in the context of the current fiscal-cliff negotiations, there is another way out –invoking the US Constitution.

In the wake of the Civil War, the government wanted to make clear that loans to the US government were still good (while Confederate debt would not be honored). Accordingly, the 14th Amendment includes the following provision: “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law . . . shall not be questioned.”

In a 1935 case (Perry v. US) the Supreme Court determined that Congress does not have the authority to renege on its obligations to its lenders. The president, then, could declare as unconstitutional the current debt-ceiling law — which requires congressional approval to raise the limit — or at least use such a threat as leverage.

Maybe I’m not privy to some sort of really brilliant strategy on the part of Speaker Boehner. But right now, doesn’t it look like . . . nothing’s happening?

I thought Guy Benson had a good idea with his Hail Mary pass of having the GOP adopt Simpson-Bowles.

(Leave it to Ezra Klein to spell out all the reasons conservatives might not want to do that, such as $2.6 trillion in tax increases over ten years and $1.4 trillion in defense cuts, worse than would be enacted under sequester. Still, as far as optics and negotiation leverage goes, this would probably do the most to blow up the “stubborn uncompromising Republicans” argument.)

So Boehner offered “the Bowles plan” and . . . Obama rejected it, with no discernible consequence.

Shouldn’t House Republicans be in session, and holding votes, one after the other, on all of these options? Would that be doing more to add to the argument that they’re taking actions to avert going over the fiscal cliff, and that Obama’s the one being unreasonable and stubborn and refusing to compromise?


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