Friday morning, official Washington and the chattering class around the nation awoke in a panic as to what the failure of Speaker John Boehner’s “Plan B” tax hike would mean for the country. But the panic is overwrought. “Plan B” was never an endgame to the fiscal cliff, rather, it was a messaging gimmick intended to buoy the Speaker’s negotiating position with President Obama.
Conservatives wisely opposed this measure, thus saving the Republican Party from backtracking on decades of hard work to protect Americans from ever-increasing taxes. Simply put, renegade conservatives behaved responsibly. They understood a political party’s seriousness of purpose is undermined when it embraces the other side’s political gimmick.
But just as the machinations of legislative negotiations are complex, so too are political gimmicks. The plan was also designed to acclimate lawmakers to the idea of voting for a tax increase and familiarize right-leaning pundits with how to defend tax increases.
In many ways, Plan B succeeded. House Republican leaders now have a whip list of who is willing to vote for a tax increase on “the rich” and many pundits have placed themselves in the precarious position of using faulty accounting methodology to rationalize a tax increase.
The lesson from all of this though is not the unreasonable nature of conservative lawmakers, but rather the outrageousness of President Obama and his Democrat allies in Congress.
To be clear, Plan B would have essentially created a new tax bracket for income in excess of $1 million, which would be taxed at 39.6 percent, as opposed to the current rate of 35 percent. Democrats, led by Maryland’s Chris Van Hollen, argued the plan represented a $50,000 tax cut for millionaires because it did not increase the tax rate paid on income between $250,000 and $999,999.
Republicans must learn they cannot out-gimmick the Democrats; nor can they offer up enough tax increases to appease President Obama. Remember, President Obama originally called for an $800 billion tax increase. This month, after Republicans put $800 billion in tax increases on the table, President Obama requested $1.6 trillion tax increase.
It will never be enough for the political left. Harry Reid recently complained they were Republicans playing a game of “Lucy and the football.” His analogy was right, but the blame was misdirected. When Republicans engage in cynical political posturing, it gives the Left permission to constantly move the goalposts.
The President has mastered this. His offerings on the fiscal cliff fail to meet his own “balance” test. His initial offer was for $4 in tax increases for every dollar in spending cuts. The hypothetical $1 in tax increases for every $10 in spending cuts discussed during the Republican primaries seems laughable by comparison.
The Democrats already have a monopoly on being the political and unserious party.
There is a thirst in this country for a serious party that refuses to play politics and instead speaks truth. And at times, the GOP has lived up to that.
Case in point: Democrats have repeatedly chastised Republicans for being unwilling to address the fiscal cliff. There is just one problem with that argument; the House passed a bill in August that would have prevented taxes from increasing on any American.
That bill, along with the House-passed budget, demonstrated a seriousness of purpose that is not evident in the Senate or White House. Not only has the Senate refused to debate the House-passed bill on the Senate floor, Harry Reid’s Senate has not passed a budget in more than 1,300 days.
Conservatives should rally around ideas and principles that unite them, not tactics that create exploitable divisions. As we move to the next phase of the fiscal cliff debate, conservatives, especially those elected to represent the American people, must recommit to explaining and fighting for pro-growth policies that advance freedom and create opportunity.
Michael Needham is CEO of Heritage Action for America.