Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Republicans should vote ‘present’ on fiscal cliff

The Republicans face a lose-lose proposition on the fiscal cliff. Even though President Obama ruled out a compromise on tax rates long before the election, a new poll by Battleground released on December 10 indicates that most voters favor raising taxes on Americans who earn more than $250,000 and large corporations. Further, Examiner’s analysis of exit polls showed that a majority of voters favor increasing taxes on the wealthy. These results have been consistent with other polls for some time. As late as yesterday, the president was still indicating his refusal to compromise on tax hikes for the wealthy according to CBS.

Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson is almost certainly right that President Obama does not really care if the country goes over the fiscal cliff. If there is no compromise prior to January 1, then President Obama will get the tax increases that he wants on the wealthy. It is also likely that he will get credit for enacting tax cuts when the Democrats push through a bill to return tax rates to their pre-cliff levels for all but the top income brackets. Republicans will have no choice but to vote for the tax cuts on middle and lower income brackets unless they want to be blamed for increasing taxes.

In essence, it is inevitable that taxes are going up. It is in the Republicans best interests to negotiate a deal as quickly as possible on the best terms possible. Republicans should categorically reject President Obama’s desire to be able to unilaterally increase the federal debt limit. They should also insist on the maximum amount of immediate spending cuts that they can get from the Democrats. Spending cuts should real, not reductions in the rate of increase, and not be future promises.

President Obama and the Democrats will blame Republicans no matter how the fiscal cliff negotiations proceed. If the country goes over the cliff, then they will blame Republicans for being unwilling to compromise on taxes for the wealthy. If the Republicans agree to the tax hikes, then Democrats and conservatives alike will attack them for raising taxes in the next election.

One possible solution is for Republicans to adopt then-Senator Obama’s strategy of voting present. Republicans should get the best deal that they can from the Democrats and then abstain from the vote. The bill will go through because Republicans won’t vote against it, but their fingerprints will not be on any tax increase. If and when the economy slips back into recession because of the president’s insistence on raising taxes, the Democrats will have no one to blame but themselves.

Republicans do hold some cards in the negotiations. Examiner’s analysis of exit polls showed that 74 percent of voters believe that the deficit or the economy was the most important issue facing the country. Sixty three percent of voters opposed raising taxes to cut the deficit. A majority rejected the proposition that the government should do more. Additionally, the middle class voters that the Democrats are holding hostage went convincingly for Mitt Romney.

The Battleground poll also found that voters favor across-the-board cuts to federal spending and oppose raising the Social Security retirement age. They were evenly split on cutting Medicare and Social Security benefits for seniors with higher incomes. Voters still disapprove of President Obama’s handling of the economy and the deficit by large margins. They only agree with him on taxing the wealthy.

President Obama does not have a strong mandate from the 2012 election, but Democrats do hold the presidency and the senate. Elections have consequences. If the Mitt Romney and the Republicans had been elected in greater numbers, America would not have to cope with a tax increase and another likely recession. As things are, the only question is what President Obama and the Democrats will have to give up to get their way.

Originally published on Examiner.com

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