Republicans are in the midst of a fierce battle with President Obama over the “fiscal cliff” and which side will take the blame if things go (or rather continue going) south. It is a time for discipline for Republicans and clarity for conservatives more generally. Here are 10 tips for political survival:
1. Remind the public what the president and his advisers have said. He claimed the sequestration wouldn’t be a problem. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said sequestration cuts would be devastating. The president now is willing to devastate national security and has yet to put forward a plan to avoid the defense cuts. He said he favored a balanced plan, but his proposal is nearly all taxes and no entitlement reform. He should be held accountable.
2. Resist the urge to talk process. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has overreached and shown bad faith on filibuster “reform,” which the Republicans must forcefully oppose. But the public doesn’t much care, and the focus should remain on the White House.
3. Explain in detail the consequences of going over the “fiscal cliff.” On the sequestration cuts alone we will lose 200,000 jobs. Tally the job losses, the hit (ironically) to revenue that accompanies a recession and the tax increases that will hit the working poor (who were largely taken off the federal income tax rolls by the Bush tax cuts).
4. Make sure the side-by-side comparison of the two plans is widely distributed. Put it in every Republican lawmaker’s hands and on every blog, and make it available to every news outlet. The GOP plan saves more and is in fact a balanced plan.
5. Explain why the president’s plan won’t work and is bad for the economy as a whole. Huge deficits remain. We would once again kick the can down the road on entitlement reform. It makes tax hikes on middle-class taxpayers inevitable.
6. Reiterate that Republicans will increase taxes on the wealthy. By removing deductions and lowering rates, Republicans’plan, just like the Simpson Bowles plan, will have the rich pay more but without rate hikes that act as a drag on the economy.
7. Invite the president to a budget summit similar to the health-care summit. Have the most articulate Republicans, especially Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), engage the president on the fiscal cliff. If the president declines to come, have the summit anyway, include an empty chair with the president’s name on it and invite C-Span and others to cover the event.
8. Start running ads, especially in states with vulnerable Democratic senators in 2014. This fight is in fact a political campaign, and given the endemic liberal media bias the GOP will have to make its case in part with paid media.
9. Explain the affect on our armed services from the sequestration cuts. How many service members will be laid off, what equipment will not be available to service members, and what financial burdens will be put on the shoulders of military families?
10. Do not draw a line unless ready to hold to it. For example, if some defense cuts can be made, don’t say, “We accept no defense cuts.” If Simpson-Bowles is a last-ditch alternative, don’t rule it out. Many liberal and even conservative pundits think the GOP will cave on tax rate hikes. That, I think, is their hope, but to date I have in conversation with leadership offices on both sides heard no Republican offer that as a possibility. Suggesting that this is a viable option at this stage, merely encourages the White House to be intransigent. It also misleads the public. That is not where Republicans are.