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Opinion: Tax Standoff Caps John Boehner's Terrible Year

Wednesday, December 21, 2011 - 12:19 PM

Speaker of the House U.S. Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) answers reporters' questions during a brief news conference on the payroll tax vote John Boehner answers questions on the payroll tax vote. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

It was probably more fun for John Boehner being in the minority.  As leader of a disciplined, frustrated and increasingly emboldened party, he spent the first two years of the Obama Administration directing the Party of No.  Then, in a landslide election, the Republicans took the majority and he became the Speaker. Be careful what you wish for.

He began the year with two promises for the House of Representatives: a focus on job creation, and a requirement that every bill be submitted with a relevant passage from the Constitution.  In other words, he'd be the champion for working Americans and the leader in a national conversation about our foundational document.

Nearly 12 months later, far from being a champion, Congress has the lowest approval rating in history. The GOP has put forward no large plans for employment.  Instead of elevating the country's discourse, he has overseen a series of manufactured crises that have threatened government shutdown and, in a real precedent-setter, pushed us to the brink of default.  Instead offering lessons from history, he's made history with recalcitrance over the debt ceiling and the creation of an ultimately impotent Super Committee.

And now he's ending his first year rejecting a plan that would cut taxes for 160 million Americans, a plan his own party broadly supported in the Senate.  He's heading into a holiday break having dropped a big lump of coal in the American stocking.

The funny thing is that on a policy level, I have mixed feelings about the payroll tax break.  As much as I think it's smart to juice the economy by putting money in the hands of those who will spend it, I don't like shortchanging the revenue stream that sustains Social Security.  Furthermore, as much as I believe working families and the unemployed need a boost, the concept of a "tax holiday" only plays into the successful conservative notion that we should all hate taxes, rather than see them as an investment in this country we share.

But this isn't really a debate about that policy. If it were, you wouldn't have Republicans in one house unanimously pulling one way and their kin in the other house overwhelming pulling the other. When there's that sort of split, it's more about the politics, than the substance, of the matter. In this case, it's about the Tea Party approach to governing: A philosophy that would rather wage all-out war than engage in the delicate art of compromise, that is more interested in making a point than making improvements in people's lives, and that is proved right when government fails to work.

So while most Washington-watchers wring their hands and wonder how this will get resolved, it's not clear the Tea Party members - who dominate the GOP House Caucus and whose support Boehner needs to remain Speaker - actually view this as a problem. They can go back to their district and boast they stood their ground. While Boehner was willing to threaten a government shut-down, they might have welcomed it.  While he went to the edge of default, they were buckled in, helmeted and ready to plunge over.

Boehner must be realizing now that what keeps his caucus happy is very different than what keeps voters back home happy.  He doesn't want to explain why he couldn't deliver a Christmas miracle.  But he can't say no to the Tea Party of No.

So maybe Congressional wrangling works this out, or maybe it doesn't.  And maybe, in 11 months, the Tea Party is handed an electoral defeat, and Boehner gets what he secretly wants: To be the leader of the minority again, where he knew what he was doing.

Justin Krebs is a political organizer and writer based in New York City. He is the founder of Living Liberally, a nationwide network of 250 local clubs that create social events around progressive politics, and author of "538 Ways to Live, Work and Play Like a Liberal."

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Comments [5]

Jack Jackson from Central New Jersey

@listener-

Please take off the filters and see things from a neutral viewpoint for a moment.

The deficit is caused largely by the spending needed to keep up GDP. If the government cut spending to balance the budget, the Great Recession becomes the Great Depression II. The popping of the real estate bubble caused a hole that big.

The debt ceiling debate WAS manufactured by the GOP to give themselves a second bite at legislative approval. Underhanded and undemocratic but hell when you are in the minority, whatever works right.

Bush and the GOP took over a budget that was essentially in balance. They blew a hole in that with a tax cut, two unfinanced wars and an increase in prescription drugs. It could seem like they are only serious about 'fiscal responsibility' when they are OUT OF POWER.

$6T of the $15T in debt is owned by the US government. The scary point is how does the government get the money to pay back what it owes? TAXES! I see a tax increase in everyone's future.

Our country worked better when incomes were better distributed. The regular guy had a better life. That's my goal.

Dec. 24 2011 09:09 PM
Steve Savage from San Diego

Justin,
there are no real good guys on this. I agree with you that less funding for social security is not the right solution, but that was the sort of stuff that was supposed to be addressed by the Super Committee. What we need right now are statesmen and stateswomen and what we have is really bad theatre

Dec. 22 2011 02:33 PM
listener

"...a series of manufactured crises that have threatened government shutdown and, in a real precedent-setter, pushed us to the brink of default".

Manufactured by whom?
After nearly quadrupling the deficit after four years of Democrat control of Congress, Pelosi, Reid and Obama last year could have swiftly raised the debt ceiling, raised taxes and pass a budget giving the nation some idea how they plan to pay for the spending they authorized.
Instead the manufactured debt ceiling crisis was deliberately and cynically dropped in the lap of the newly elected Republicans daring them to break their campaign promise of bringing sanity back to the US economy. The Democrat leadership did this for pure political reasons and then have the nerve to accuse others of putting politics over the national interest.
The fact that the US Senate is approaching 1000 days without a budget and rejected Obama's budget by a 97-0 vote proves the Democrat leadership is not serious about healing the economy.
The Republicans passed a budget and passed "cut, cap and balance" which was a serious attempt to improve the economy and Rep. Ryan's Medicare reform plan sought to save Medicare from certain bankruptcy. Instead of working for long term and serious solutions, the Democrat leadership answered with the usual slander, derision and defamation that the prescient Tea Party movement has been subjected to for three years. If the warnings of the Tea Party were heeded in the spirit of compromise in 2009, would we be looking at 15 trillion in debt today and what that means for the USA and the free world?
Those recalcitrant conservative Congressmen and women know it is a Churchillian choice between "broad sunlit uplands" or "a new dark age" in the 21st Century. Anyone who knows how to use a calculator and calendar and refuses to lie to themselves realizes that is no overstatement.

Dec. 22 2011 01:10 PM
Jack from Amarillo TX

I know a huge church in Amarillo well known for its conservative stance where the Pastor is now urging members to vote Democrat now. The Republican party with Boehner "at the helm" so to speak has caused its demise.

Dec. 22 2011 03:47 AM

Would a rational person look at what has been happening in Congress of the last two years and conclude that it's Boehner's fault. Granted he has contributed to the stellar results that Congress has produced, and shoudl be rewarded appropriately; but I think the American public should do something that it hasn't demonstrated any ability to do in the past. The public needs to smarten up and hold each and every contributing member of Congress accountable. Something else the Amercian public hasn't ever done before.

Dec. 21 2011 10:58 PM

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