According to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll, 73 percent of Democrats and 63 percent of independents—and even 39 percent of Republicans—now favor raising taxes on those making $250,000 or more a year. So give the people want they want.
As it is, the GOP is engaged in an unwinnable scrum with Barack Obama, a man chasing the gold-plated Holy Grail of hiking top marginal tax rates on the rich and small businesses—bringing in, according to the Congressional Budget Office, a few days' worth of revenue. Concede the Bush-era tax rate (though you wonder what the president is going to talk about for the next four years) and move past the cliff.
So says Tom Cole, Republican congressman from Oklahoma. "Some people think that's our leverage in the debate," he told fellow members. "It's the Democrats' leverage in the debate." House Speaker John Boehner quickly shut down this scandalous talk, but really, other options are even more distasteful.
There is no chance of a "balanced approach" on debt when you have no leverage. If these Republicans, unprepared for political warfare at this level, lose a game of fiscal cliff chicken, they will take the blame for across-the-board tax hikes. Obama won't be held culpable for holding the economy hostage over some piddling revenue from the rich. He won't be blamed for the ensuing recession. The media will be too busy investigating obstructionism and applauding the president's gleaming new tax plan.
Having already largely conceded that taxes will be raised, a wide-ranging bipartisan deal on debt made under duress has no upside for Republicans—either as policy or politics. It would entail surrendering genuine reform on entitlements, which is worse than a tax increase. Obama, Harry Reid and Dick Durbin have already indicated that Social Security reform should not be part of any fiscal cliff deal. Durbin even falsely claimed that Social Security does "not add one penny to the debt." And any Medicare reform is treated as if the GOP were proposing geriatricide.
Moreover, even if a watered-down bipartisan "solution" was struck, Democrats would then be able to use Republicans as human shields against any blowback, while, simultaneously, the president would be taking full credit for enacting a middle-class tax cut he had nothing to do with.
The American people? They'll still be staring at a dangerous debt crisis.
So even though raising taxes is a terrible idea, clearing the deck of one of the most effective political distractions ever concocted, the Bush-era tax rate, allows the GOP to recalibrate a debate they've been losing for four years.
This week the president said, "Our ultimate goal is an agreement that gets our long-term deficit under control in a way that is fair and balanced." A few years before, when he promised to cut the deficit in half, Obama claimed that "this will not be easy. It will require us to make difficult decisions and face challenges we've long neglected."
So what are these hard decisions?
Republicans have already offered at least two detailed plans. One from Sen. Pat Toomey and another one more recently from Sen. Bob Corker—which offers some reforms on Social Security, new revenue and a cap on itemized deductions after $50,000. Democrats? They've balked on spending cuts. Balked on entitlement reform. What's left? A value added tax? A carbon tax? What's left after the rich pay their "fair share"?
What's left for Republicans is a fight over tax and entitlement reform that could make Obama's victory today mean far less tomorrow.