December 19, 2012

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

John Boehner, at his minute-long appearance before the cameras today:

“Tomorrow, the House will pass legislation to make permanent tax relief for nearly every American — 99.81 percent of the American people. Then the president will have a decision to make. He can call on the Senate Democrats to pass that bill, or he can be responsible for the largest tax increase in American history.”

That appears to be a straightforward threat: If Obama doesn’t agree to raise tax rates only on income over $1 million, we’re going over the cliff. No other choice is offered. It’s one or the other.

Brian Beutler speculates that Boehner is essentially throwing in the towel here — he’s decided his only option is to go over the cliff. It’s either that, or Boehner is making one last big stand designed to show conservatives he fought the good fight until the bitter end, perhaps making it easier to sell them an eventual compromise that’s close to Obama’s latest offer. Boehner’s comments today leave him little room even to do that, however.

One thing Boehner’s comments accomplish: They make it even harder for Democrats and liberals to accept a single additional concession on the President’s part. The president’s proposal is already loaded with concessions, to a fault: Raising the tax hike threshold to $400,000, only taking the debt ceiling off the table for two years, cuts in Social Security benefits. As Paul Krugman notes, liberals and Democrats should not brook any more concessions as things stand now. This last bit of hostage taking from Boehner will only make things worse. At this point, a lot of this is about breaking the GOP extremist wing’s explicit commitment to continue extracting whatever it can from Dems through threats of this sort, for as long as possible. Now he’s threatening to take us over the cliff unless Democrats agree to lower taxes on all income between $400,000 and $1 million, after winning the election. There is no way liberals and rank and file Dems will be able to accept it if Obama gives up anything significant in response to that.

Oh well, I guess we’re going the cliff, then. Boehner seems to think he can wave around his tax hike on income over $1 million to insulate Republicans from public blame. (That’s presuming it even passes, which it may not, which would be a disastrous development for the Speaker.) It won’t work. The public will blame Republicans. And then Dems can come back and move to pass the Obama Tax Cuts For The Middle Class.

And so, Boehner has it wrong. He’s the one with only two choices: Agree to a compromise far closer to what Obama has offered, or be responsible for taxes going up on all of the American people.

 

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.