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December 21, 2012

Top Headline Comments 12-21-12

Happy Friday.

Last night, House members dealt a blow to our chances of averting the fiscal cliff and they did it in the name of "principle." In the minds of these members, not renewing the expiring tax rates on the top 2% is the same thing as hiking taxes on the top 2% and, as a matter of conscience, they cannot support a tax hike.

That's their explanation, anyway. I don't buy it. These same members haven't said a peep about the expiring payroll tax holiday. They haven't lifted a finger to avert a tax hike that will hit every single worker starting January 1. So spare me the jawing about conservative principles. These are not principled people.

In fact, while Speaker Boehner was busy whipping votes last night, at least 20 members had already taken off, to eat gumbo. You can tell how seriously these members, including Trey Gowdy and Steve Southerland, take their obligations:

When asked what their thoughts on Plan B were, they went into something of an Abbot and Costello routine.

"Plan B?" said Gowdy. "To gumbo?"

"I hope there isn't a plan B. I was really counting on the gumbo," said Southerland with a laugh.

So, what's the outcome here? Do the defections mean we're going to end up with a more conservative outcome? In a word: NO.

Whatever happens next-- whether we go off the cliff or Boehner cuts a deal with President Obama -- will be worse than Plan B. Obviously the fiscal cliff is a bad deal: it raises taxes for everyone and guts defense spending, but has no entitlement reform. Equally obvious is that any deal made between Boehner and Obama to avert the fiscal cliff will have to be worse -- that is, less conservative -- than Plan B because Boehner is going to have to get Democratic members to vote for it.

That's what happens. A few fringe conservatives revolt and the rest of the GOP caucus -- a majority of GOP members, I might add -- then has to turn to the Democrats for votes. Which means further compromises. By refusing to accept a partial victory, the fringe pushes an eventual deal further to the Left. To be honest, that fringe likes it that way. They get to keep their hands clean and then rail against both Obama and their own party -- no doubt patting themselves on the back the whole time.

The conference meeting Boehner called last night put a spotlight on the deep trouble facing the House GOP. There was no cajoling or bargaining. He quickly explained that he didn't have the votes, led the Pledge of Allegiance, said a prayer, and departed. Even the defectors were stunned. They thought they could act like poo-flinging monkeys and Boehner would still manage to save them from their own folly:

Representative Justin Amash of Michigan, a conservative with libertarian leanings, was stunned. As he walked back to his office, he said the episode was unfortunate, even though he was planning to vote against the measure. For the past month, since House leaders booted him off the budget committee, he has been railing against Boehner for his management style. But even Amash wondered whether the House GOP was making the right move. “Too many people in there were arguing that this thing is a tax increase, and I don’t think that’s what Boehner was trying to do,” he said. As much as he disagrees with Boehner’s approach, even he regretted how the speaker’s plan was killed.

There's much more on the conference from NRO's Robert Costa and it's definitely worth a read.

Was this all really part of a conservative attempt to weaken Speaker Boehner so as to possibly remove him next month? I tend to think it's not. There is no conservative candidate clamoring for the job (who'd want it? it requires compromises and negotiation with fractious members) and, despite these fringe defections, most members recognize Boehner's leadership. And though I doubt the bonafides of the defectors' claims to principle when it comes to taxes, even I don't think they'd go so far as to take us off the cliff just because they don't like Boehner.

The House and Senate are now in recess for the holiday. Obama is an empty suit. Which means we're now hurtling towards the cliff and there isn't anybody in the drivers seat trying to stop it. I see some conservatives (especially on Twitter) saying that we should just go off the cliff and let Obama take the blame. They forget that the House GOP voted for the sequestration part of the cliff. And now they've refused to halt the tax part of the cliff. So the folks who think the GOP won't share the blame for economic disaster are just kidding themselves. The GOP shared power, it will rightly share the blame.

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 06:50 AM

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