Las Vegas Sun

August 23, 2014

Currently: 84° — Complete forecast | Log in | Create an account

OTHER VOICES:

Boehner plays a weak hand

Another view?

View more of the Las Vegas Sun's opinion section:

Editorials - the Sun's viewpoint.

Columnists - local and syndicated writers.

Letters to the editor - readers' views.

Have your own opinion? Write a letter to the editor.

How dare he? President Barack Obama, I mean: How dare he do what he promised during the campaign? How dare he insist on a “balanced approach” to fiscal policy that includes a teensy-weensy tax increase for the rich? Oh, the humanity.

Republicans are having conniptions. Witness the way House Speaker John Boehner reacted when Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner presented the administration’s proposals on taxes and spending:

“I was flabbergasted,” Boehner told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.” “I looked at him and said, ‘You can’t be serious.’ I’ve just never seen anything like it. You know, we’ve got seven weeks between Election Day and the end of the year. And three of those weeks have been wasted with this nonsense.”

The “nonsense” in question is a set of perfectly reasonable measures that Obama wants Congress to approve. Nothing in his package should be a surprise — except, perhaps, that the president has opened this negotiation by demanding what he really wants rather than what he believes it would be convenient for Boehner to deliver.

“The president’s idea of a negotiation is, roll over and do what I ask,” Boehner said.

Hmmm. Where do you imagine the president might have learned this particular bargaining technique? Might his instructors have been Boehner’s own House Republicans, who went so far as to hold the debt ceiling for ransom — and with it, the nation’s full faith and credit — in order to get their way?

Obama’s proposals include effectively taking away congressional authority over the debt ceiling, which would preclude a repeat of last year’s hostage crisis. Boehner called it “silliness” to think that Congress would willingly surrender a power it can use to “leverage the political process.” So it’s fine when Congress uses muscle to get its way but not when the president does the same?

“Right now, I would say we’re nowhere, period,” Boehner said. “We’re nowhere.”

Not true. It’s just that we’re somewhere Republicans would prefer not to be. We’re just past an election in which Obama won a second term and Democrats gained seats in both houses of Congress. And we’re nearing a “fiscal cliff” of tax increases and budget cuts that horrify Republicans more than Democrats.

In Boehner’s view, he already has made a major concession: He announced that Republicans are “willing to put revenue on the table,” perhaps to the tune of $800 billion over a decade. But he insists this money has to come from eliminating deductions and closing loopholes, not from any increase in income tax rates.

Obama insists that a modest increase in tax rates for the wealthiest households — from 35 percent to 39.6 percent, the rate during the Clinton years — must be part of any package.

This fight isn’t about whether the rich will pay more in taxes; it is clear they will. It’s about whether this new revenue is collected in a way that allows House Republicans to say they have kept their pledge never to raise marginal tax rates for anyone, for any purpose.

Refusing to budge has served House Republicans well in previous budget negotiations. But the no-taxes-ever bulwark has not served the country well, and if Obama sees a way to blast through it, he would be remiss not to try.

Geithner seems confident. “You’ve heard (Republicans) for the first time, I think, in two decades, acknowledge that they are willing to have revenues go up as part of a balanced plan,” he said Sunday. “That’s a good first step, but they have to tell us what they are willing to do on rates and revenues. That’s going to be very hard for Republicans. We understand that, but there’s no way through this without that.”

He sounds like the doctor who says you might feel a “pinch” or a bit of “discomfort.” Meanwhile, he’s coming at you with a needle the size of an ice pick.

There is no guarantee that Obama will get everything he wants out of this showdown. But I’d rather be playing the president’s hand than Boehner’s.

Most House Republicans are in safe districts, but not all of them — and the GOP majority will be smaller when the new Congress convenes. Polls indicate that most Americans believe the tax increase Obama seeks for the wealthy is no big deal.

It’s hard to imagine how Republicans can possibly get a better offer on taxes and spending in January than they can get now.

Hence Boehner’s urgency. Time is not on his side.

Eugene Robinson is a columnist for the Washington Post.

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy

Previous Discussion: 2 comments so far…

Comments are moderated by Las Vegas Sun editors. Our goal is not to limit the discussion, but rather to elevate it. Comments should be relevant and contain no abusive language. Comments that are off-topic, vulgar, profane or include personal attacks will be removed. Full comments policy. Additionally, we now display comments from trusted commenters by default. Those wishing to become a trusted commenter need to verify their identity or sign in with Facebook Connect to tie their Facebook account to their Las Vegas Sun account. For more on this change, read our story about how it works and why we did it.

Only trusted comments are displayed on this page. Untrusted comments have expired from this story.

  1. Yes, the President has the upper hand, NOW. He won. But there are 4 years in a presidential term and things can and usually do change quickly. The budget negotiations will define the legacy of President Obama's second term. A win for him sets the stage for more wins in the future. A loss now, by going over the fiscal cliff, sets the stage for more losses in the future. Perception in politics is reality. And the reality is the President is the leader and he takes the credit or the blame regardless.

    CarmineD

  2. Speaker Boehner has pointed his index finger at the American people and said the vast majority of Americans must pay. All in order for the rich to enjoy all the benefits at our expense.

    I have a finger for Speaker Boehner. It's not the index finger. It's the one next to it. And rather than point, I am extending it.

    The American people have spoken this last election. The Former President George W. Bush Jr. Tax Cuts For The Rich, The Filthy Rich, And The Obscenely Filthy Rich were intended to be temporary. Not permanent.

    As of January 1, 2013, they are gone, baby, gone. Reach for your wallets/purses, you ARE paying your fair share of taxes. Taxes you have been avoiding for a long, long time now.

    Get used to it. That's the new norm.