Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What's Behind Heller's Speech Full of Nothing

So Dean Heller isn't just trying to look "moderate" on immigration reform. He's also out to make this think he's "all grown up" on all matters fiscal. In July 2011, Heller threatened to take the nation into default and trigger a global financial crisis if a deal to raise the debt ceiling was "not good enough" (meaning not radical enough in slashing investment in our economy). But now, all of a sudden, Heller wants Democrats and Republicans to come together to do something bipartisan!

Wait, do I see fairies and unicorns gathering around him?

Or could it be something else? Perhaps it's something else. Perhaps it has something to do with influential top Republican Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma) actually telling his fellow Republicans to accept President Obama's tax proposal.

Wait, what? Yep, that happened. And TPM's Brian Beutler has a smart hypothesis as to why this happened.

Maybe Cole’s argument will prevail, or maybe it won’t. But here’s an indication that it has appeal among Republicans: a couple of veteran GOP communicators —Ari Fleischer and Brad Dayspring — are already providing House Republicans free framing advice in the event they decide to go this route. Even if the tax cuts for top earners expire, they note, Bush tax rates for 98 percent of Americans will be made permanent. Huge victory for Bush and Republicanism.

That’s true as far as it goes. It’s also consolation — the Bush tax cuts for high earners constitute about 20 percent of the Bush tax cuts’ overall revenue cost. Hardly an unalloyed victory for the GOP.

So far these are the only two Republican flacks framing the issue this way. And it’s worth keeping in mind that both of them, in different capacities, worked for George W. Bush, whose legislative legacy is at stake. But Dayspring is best known as Eric Cantor’s former adviser and communications director, and currently advises Cantor’s SuperPAC — not exactly someone you’d expect to clear the runway for Obama’s tax plan, unless he knew Republicans were preparing for a (possible) emergency landing.

Some Republicans, like Cole, are starting to think the only way they can regain any kind of leverage in "Fiscal Cliff" negotiations is by simply settling the middle class tax rates now so they can keep fighting on everything else. It's unclear as to how much truth there is to that. But at this point, it's increasingly difficult to dispute that President Obama now has the upper hand.

Things are very different now. Obama is in a far stronger position politically, and Republicans are in a weaker one. Obama just decisively won an election that pitted his demand for a greater contribution by the rich towards deficit reduction and his opposition to gutting the core mission of social programs against the GOP’s demand for more austerity. The GOP strategy of total obstructionism has been repudiated. Polls show the GOP brand is in trouble and that the public is poised to blame Republicans if the fiscal cliff talks fail.

In 2011 Republicans could demand concessions on spending in exchange for cooperation on the debt ceiling from a reasonably strong position. Now, if Democrats do force the issue and insist that the debt ceiling get resolved as part of the fiscal talks, what “price” will Republicans ask for? Will they really try to hold the debt ceiling hostage, and threaten to tank the economy, while demanding...low tax rates on the rich? That’s not a terribly strong position. Republicans will also insist on ever deeper spending cuts, but Congressional Democrats are so angry about the last debt ceiling battle that they are not going to be in any mood to give a good deal of ground in response to another round of demands.

And what makes this even worse for Republicans is that their proposed solutions are deeply unpopular. 60% of Americans do want the wealthiest 2% to pay their fair share. Well over 60% of Americans do not support cuts to Medicare and Social Security benefits for seniors and the disabled. And they don't want to see cuts to Medicaid benefits, either.

So what are Republicans to do? This is why Dean Heller gave a speech full of nothing today. What else can he say?

No comments:

Post a Comment