Thursday, July 28, 2011

The GOP's Test: Reality or Ideology?

Although the debt ceiling fight is by no means over, John Boehner and Harry Reid have come up with two plans that avoid raising taxes, and either of them seems to be a realistic option. One obstacle in the way of a completed deal is President Obama, who continues to push for a tax increase. However, it is doubtful that Obama would choose to veto a plan that passed the House and Senate and thus expose himself to the majority of the blame for a possible credit downgrade or any other adverse effects of the budget stalemate. The other obstacle is a number of House Republicans who continue to insist on more aggressive spending cuts and refuse to eliminate special tax breaks.

This, argues the Wall Street Journal, would be a big mistake, and I agree. The Boehner and Reid plans are not perfect, but they satisfy the GOP's #1 priority (no tax increases) and seem like they have support in Congress. If House Republicans torpedo them, they play into Obama's hands, allowing him to blame the GOP for the budget impasse. They then might be forced to accept a tax increase in order to avoid suffering the political fallout of the debt limit not being raised.

This is somewhat similar to the situation that Obama and the Democrats faced in 2009-10. They came into office with an impressive mandate, and the GOP's popularity was at historic lows as a result of the disasters of the Bush administration. With a down economy, the Democrats had an opportunity to cement a long-lasting majority by taking a center-left approach that focused on jobs (particularly private-sector jobs) and financial regulation while perhaps also expanding the safety net. Instead, they went whole hog, driven by their ideology instead of by the reality of the situation. They passed a stimulus that contained some good programs and tax cuts but was also stuffed with pork, did nothing for small businesses, and in the end was largely a disappointment. Then, despite continuing high unemployment, they abandoned the focus on jobs and passed ObamaCare, a decades-long liberal dream, without a single Republican vote. Immediately afterward, new hiring almost stopped. The Democrats were crushed in the 2010 election.

If the Republicans want to keep any of the gains they made in 2010, they need to learn from this mistake.

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