Speaker John Boehner declared an impasse Friday negotiations with the White House over avoiding the fiscal cliff.Okay, so if there's a stalemate, let's take a look at the Boehner/Republican position and compare it with the Obama/Democratic position.
“There’s a stalemate,” Boehner said at a news conference. “Let’s not kid ourselves. I’m not trying to make this more difficult. If you’ve watched me over the last three weeks I’ve been very guarded in what I have to say, because I don’t want to make it harder for me or the president or members of both parties to find common ground.”
President Obama and Democrats are saying that the most urgent fiscal issue facing the country is the expiration of tax cuts on income under $250,000. They say we should extend those tax cuts now, but let Bush tax cuts on income over $250,000 expire at the end the year. They also say that we should continue to look for ways to reduce the deficit through long-term spending reductions, but that we can't ignore the need for short-term measures to boost the economy—things like unemployment benefits and something to replace the payroll tax cut.
John Boehner and Republicans, meanwhile, say they agree that tax cuts on income below $250,000 should continue. However, they also say that tax cuts on income above $250,000 should continue as well. Moreover, they want to see cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, although they refuse to be specific about what cuts they'd like to see. They also say they want to raise revenue through tax reform, but again refuse to offer details. And they oppose any short-term efforts to boost the economy.
An outsider might look at those positions and say that there really isn't much of a stalemate over taxes, because both sides have the same position on tax rates for 98 percent of the public. The problem is that at least so far, Boehner and Republicans are saying they will only support tax cuts on income below $250,000 in exchange for continuing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and for agreeing to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. As a result, we do have a stalemate over tax cuts, but it's not because Republicans say they disagree with Democrats—instead, it's because Republicans think they can hold those tax cuts hostage.
By taking the tax cuts hostage, Boehner is raising the political stakes in a big way. He's setting up a scenario where he can only win by forcing the White House to cave or by following through on his threat to hold the tax cuts hostage. But if House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi—who says Boehner's stalemate talk is irresponsible—is able to get about 30 House Republicans sign a discharge petition that would bring an extension of middle-class tax cuts up for a vote, Boehner is going to lose. And even if she falls short, next year she's only going need about 20 Republicans to join her, because Democrats gained seats in the House during this year's election. Meanwhile, President Obama will continue rallying public support for an extension of middle-class tax cuts—and he's not shying away from calling out Republican hostage-takers by name.
Maybe John Boehner believes he can turn hostage-taking into a winning political position. If so, it probably wouldn't be the craziest thing he believes. But it's still plenty crazy. The good news for him and Republicans is that President Obama and Congressional Democrats would be happy to let him step back from the abyss and end the stalement. And the best part of the deal is that the only thing he'd have to do is vote for a tax cut. It's amazing he hasn't figured out just how good a deal he's being offered.