When the 1st Marine Regiment was encircled by communist forces at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, Marine Col. Lewis “Chesty” Puller was said to have declared: “We’re surrounded. Good! Now we can fire in any direction.”
It’s time for congressional Republicans to adopt some of Puller’s courage — and strategy — when it comes to their fiscal stand-off with Barack Obama.
Like Puller’s Marines, the GOP is surrounded. That means Republican leaders have only two options: 1) Surrender. 2) Stand and fight.
Right now, it seems as if they are seeking the least painful way to surrender. It’s time to stand and fight instead. Republicans can still shoot their way out of their current predicament. It won’t be pretty and they will have to fight ugly — but they can still win. Here is a three-step battle plan for doing so:
STEP ONE: Stand your ground on taxes. You’ve already conceded hundreds of billions in new revenue through limiting deductions. If Obama refuses to compromise, pass legislation extending current tax rates for all Americans. Let Obama reject it and take us over the “fiscal cliff” — and then be prepared to live under the Clinton tax rates while negotiations on tax reform continue. In the short term, Americans may blame you. You can recover from that. What you will never recover from is surrendering your principles and giving up your brand as the party of low taxes and limited government.
STEP TWO: Go on the offensive. Immediately put forward a plan to fundamentally reform the tax code. You will be able to outbid Obama and the Democrats in any tax-cut fight. And the intellectual groundwork has already been done. During the supercommittee negotiations last year, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) put forward a plan to lower rates, raise revenue and limit deductions. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) has a revenue-neutral corporate tax reform plan that lowers the rate to 25 percent and moves to a territorial system.
On the spending side, “soak the rich” by getting rid of the billions of dollars in government benefits, taxpayer subsidies and corporate welfare the wealthy receive each year and don’t need, and by means-testing government programs from unemployment benefits to farm subsidies.
On entitlements, put forward a plan to save Social Security and Medicare through structural reforms and by reducing benefits for well-off retirees and eliminating them entirely for the wealthiest seniors. Propose a “Buffett Rule” of your own: Warren Buffett does not need taxpayers to subsidize his retirement and health care.
STEP THREE: Pass your plans. If the president refuses to negotiate and no progress is made by February, inform him that you will attach all or part of your plan to legislation raising the debt limit and pass it in the House. Then do so. Obama will sign it. Here is why:
Unlike with the fiscal cliff, Republicans have all the leverage when it comes to the debt limit. Today, Obama is perfectly willing to go over the fiscal cliff and blame the GOP for the resulting tax increases on the middle class. But when it comes to the debt limit, he does not have that luxury. He can’t default on our debt — the consequences are too catastrophic. So in the end he will cave.
Indeed, he would have caved during the last debt-limit stand-off, in the summer of 2011. According to Bob Woodward, when Obama told his advisers he intended to veto the debt-limit bill the Republican-controlled House had passed, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner told him he couldn’t — that if Republicans didn’t give in, he had no choice but to sign their bill. “You can’t veto,” Geithner reportedly told Obama, because the consequences “would be indelible, incurable. It would last for generations.”
Republicans had Obama cornered and didn’t know it — so they let him off the hook. When the next debt-limit increase comes in February, they will know better. The president’s current negotiating leverage dissipates as soon as we go over the fiscal cliff. Come February, the tables will be turned — and Republicans will hold all the cards in the debt-limit negotiations.
When that moment comes, the GOP should treat Obama with the same magnanimity that he is showing them today. Right now, Obama is not seeking middle ground with the GOP opposition; he is seeking to crush and humiliate them. That is his choice. But in February, when he suddenly needs Republicans to raise the debt limit, he should be made to regret his refusal to compromise.
The GOP can prevail in the current face-off. Doing so will require the kind of fortitude more common in Marines than in members of Congress. Republicans need to put down their white flags and start fighting for their principles.
There is no dishonor in being surrounded — only in surrender.
Marc A. Thiessen, a fellow with the American Enterprise Institute, writes a weekly online column for The Post.