I’m a little late with this; you might have noticed I’ve been a bit busy. But even through a haze of morphine, it was fascinating watching Rep. John Boehner’s thoroughly humiliating attempt to pass a bill that would raise tax rates only for those who make more than a million dollars a year.
When the Tea Party movement swept Republicans into power in the U.S. House and many state legislatures, I immediately said at the time that while the GOP was harnessing the energy of that movement, it would end up being bad for them. They’re trying to ride a horse that is only going to buck them off, and this is a perfect example. They are so extreme in their anti-tax views that they are willing to do great damage to the party in the name of ideology.
Boehner is caught in a bind here. He could bring a more moderate package up for a vote, one that would keep the Bush tax cuts in place for 98% of taxpayers and raise rates on the top 2%. That package would almost certainly pass with big Democratic support and a portion of the Republican vote (the sane portion). But that might well lead to a revolt against his speaker position that he’s not sure he could survive. So he’s trying to keep the crazies from revolting, something they will not do without absolute purity. No tax increases, even on the richest Americans, period — and if that leads to higher taxes on everyone, so be it. Only purity matters, not pragmatism. David Frum details the circular firing squad:
Rationality is the ability to bring means into alignment with ends.
Let’s suppose for a moment that the two dozen Republicans who rejected Speaker Boehner’s Plan B are rational. What do their chosen means tell us about their desired ends?
Is the end: “Defeat the Obama tax increases”? No, that can’t be it. The rejection of Plan B means that taxes will go up more than if Plan B had somehow become law.
Is the end a more modest: “Protect Republicans from blame for the Obama tax increases?” No, that’s not it either. Protection of the party from blame was precisely John Boehner’s goal in devising Plan B. Plan B was never intended as a serious budget proposal. Plan B was intended only as a PR insurance policy if the country went over the fiscal cliff. Republicans could then say: “See we were prepared to tax millionaires if need be.”
The defeat of Plan B leaves Republicans – all Republicans utterly defenseless against the onslaught to come.
Boehner’s Plan B wasn’t going to pass, but it was good politics — as good as they could do under the circumstances. The Tea Party types just don’t care. They’ll gladly shoot themselves to prove their ideological purity. And this claim from the night before now looks a lot funnier:
“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 Senate Democrats to pass that bill, or he can be responsible for the largest tax increase in American history.”
Yep, you’ve got him right where you want him.