Mr. Smith's Insane Cousins Go to Washington
Let's get something straight from the start. Plan B wasn't going to lead to any deal anyway. Suppose it had gotten 218 votes last night, instead of being the epic failure that it was. Okay. That would have left Republicans at $1,000,000 on tax rates, with Obama at $400,000. That's still an extremely wide gulf, and if the GOP had to fight that hard to get to 218 on $1 million, what on earth would make anyone think there'd be votes in the GOP caucus for a compromise-on-the-compromise figure like $500,000 or $600,000? No chance.
And that's just tax rates. Plan B also included draconian, not to say outright cruel, cuts to the safety net--ending the child tax credit (Merry Christmas, kids?), permitting the lapsing of certain tax credits that alleviate the tax burden of the working poor. Finally, Plan B lifted the sequester, the across-the-board mandated spending cuts, on the Pentagon only (Merry Christmas, Lockheed Martin!).
In other words, Plan B was a fully baked conservative cake--penalties for poor people, goodies for defense contractors. Then over top of it Boehner tried to apply this icing of a tax increase on two-tenths of one percent of the population, so that the gullible and ever-hopeful establishment press would write that Republicans raised some taxes and see, there's hope.
But even if they'd passed it, the chasm between Obama and the Republicans would still have been vast, and Boehner's unyielding caucus would have signaled that they weren't budging one inch further. I shook my head ruefully yesterday as I listened to some of the credulous reporting on NPR about how Americans should keep hope alive (host Robert Siegel sounded, in fairness, like he knew better).
So step back and think of last night in this context: Plan B was a conservative plan with one little tiny dash of compromise, one small and mostly symbolic feather step outside the safe zone of hard-right ideology and toward...not even the center, but the far-right fringe of the center. And the Republicans could not vote even for that.
As Andrew Sullivan wrote yesterday, a word I re-used on television last night, they are vandals. They aren't legislators. They have nothing to contribute to the polity at all. All they want to do is destroy--the federal government; Barack Obama; the national economy as long as Obama is president might gain from good economic news. That is an agenda of destruction; of vandalism quite literally. This should be manifestly clear this morning even to the most monastic heirs of David Broder.
Obama was offering around $1.2 trillion each in taxes and cuts. He moved dramatically on the debt ceiling. He put a Social Security cut on the table that is bitter medicine indeed for a lot of his base. He came to the table. Boehner, for whom my sympathy is limited, lied about the president in every one of these particulars. Obama tried. The Republicans said clearly: sorry, we don't compromise. On anything.
What now? Obama should hold a press conference, I think, or even give a quick Oval Office speech and tell the American people all the above, tell them exactly where things stand, exactly what this alleged "political party" is doing in the name of 47 percent of them. He's been patient and more than fair. Besides which, he should not just assume that Americans will blame the GOP if we go over the cliff. He needs to do something to make sure they blame the GOP.
And Boehner? It depends on whether he wants to hold on to his job, and whether he is willing to drop the Hastert Rule, by which he won't let anything get to the floor unless it has the support of the majority of the GOP caucus in the House.
If he actually decides he wants to do the right thing for the country, which is a long shot but given last night's humiliation might be possible, he'll announce today that he doesn't care if he's speaker anymore, he's going to bring Obama's latest proposal to the floor and permit an up-or-down vote. Or short of that, he could at least bring the Senate bill (protecting the tax rates on dollars earned below $250,000) to the floor to see if either would pass with the support of most or nearly all Democrats and 30 or so Republicans. He'd be ending his career as speaker. But maybe after last night, Cincinatti is looking pretty good to him.
However. Is there any guarantee that the Senate bill could get those 30 Republican votes? Yes, a small number of them, still in single digits, have said they'd vote for the Senate bill. But needless to say the whole machinery would gin up again. Freedom Works, the Kochs, the Club for Growth, Red State, Limbaugh. All would be enraged at the prospect of Republicans voting to increase taxes at that level, and they'd paint targets on the soft Republicans' backs and start the war dance all over again.
So we'll go over the cliff, and Obama will have more leverage, and we'll see what happens then. But make no mistake. Mr. Smith's insane cousins have come to Washington, and insane people can't be reasoned with. The country is stuck with the vandals, and vandalism is all they can commit, because that is who they are.