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John Boehner slow-walks the country towards the fiscal cliff

John Boehner went on the House floor today to reiterate his demand that the White House propose detailed spending cuts to prove its seriousness about reaching a fiscal cliff deal:

As you know, Dems have already agreed to well over $1 trillion in spending cuts in 2011 — cuts Boeher himself said were significant at the time. By contrast, Republicans have not agreed to a penny in new rates. Since experts believe we can’t raise a substantial enough amount in deficit reducing revenues without hiking rates, the basic situation here is simple: One side has made far more concessions towards real deficit reduction than the other has. And the one that hasn’t made as many concessions is the one demanding still more — even though it lacks the leverage here.

I continue to remain puzzled about what this is supposed to accomplish. Obviously the idea is to try to blame the White House and Dems for the failure to reach a deal. But polls continue to show that Republicans are losing this PR battle badly. Yesterday’s Gallup poll found that only 26 percent of Americans approve of the GOP’s handling of the fiscal cliff talks, versus 64 percent who disapprove. For Obama the numbers are 48-44. That comes after Republicans have demanded for weeks that Dems detail spending cuts first. This would seem to suggest the current strategy is not working.

As for the demand that the White House go first in detailing its spending cuts, this is an almost laughably transparent ruse. As I keep noting, If Dems propose more in detailed spending cuts, Republicans will simply dismiss them as unserious, no matter what Dems offer — pulling the talks further and further in their direction. Indeed, they’ve already done this! The original proposal by the White House contained some $400 billion in Medicare cuts. Republicans dismissed it as unserious. If we do nothing, all the tax cuts will expire, and Dems can move to extend just the middle class cuts. There’s no reason for Democrats to lead with their chin, as much as Boehner wants them to.

I continue to believe all this pantomime points to one endgame. Boehner will wait until enough Republicans come out and call for allowing a vote on extending just the middle class tax cuts — enough to allow him to capitulate and claim he had no other choice. He can tell conservatives he fought until the end and that he’s adopting the best possible course of action for the party.

Last week, when Boehner called for Dems to get serious about spending cuts, I noted that he resembled a football coach nervously eying the clock with time running out, his team behind, and no new plays to run. Today’s appearance doesn’t dispel that impression. Boehner today accused the White House of “slow walking” the country towards the edge of the cliff. If anything, Boehner is the one who is doing that — out of necessity.