By Robert Schlesinger |
One could argue the most important skill in politics today is that of naming the various crises we confront.
The current crisis du jour—the fiscal cliff—is a good example. It's actually two things happening at once—tax cuts that are scheduled to expire at year's end; the looming sequester, which will impose what amounts to across-the-board 9 percent spending cuts as a result of the budget deal struck last year; and as an added bonus, we're about to run up against the debt limit again.
The name implies swift and certain doom if we don't—what? Raise taxes? Let the Bush tax cuts expire? Stick it to the wealthy and corporations?
President Barack Obama sees this as an opportunity to trade on his recent election victory, paint House Republicans as intransigent, and extract billions more in tax dollars from the American people.
It need not end this way. House Republicans can't oppose all three. They can't stand for extending all the Bush tax cuts and enforcing the sequester and refusing to raise the debt limit. From a policy standpoint, they should. And, from a public relations standpoint, it might even work in the long run. They'd be able to say they took the strongest steps in a generation to truly change the way Washington does business.
But polls show 80 percent of Americans fear the cliff, but only 26 percent say they understand the situation to any great degree—good job, Obama message-meisters. Moreover, Republicans have shown in the past they can't truly stomach such battles, and, given the political climate, this may not be the time or place to make a stand.
So what Republicans should do is pick one of the three—the one that least compromises their principles—and offer a deal. And the one that least compromises their principles is agreeing to raise the debt limit. It moves us back from the cliff, enables all parties to regroup and work in the 113th Congress for a more permanent solution, and signals House Republicans are not willing to play Russian roulette with the nation's fiscal health.
Avoiding sequestration may seem the easier course. Post-election, defense spending changes from something that enables reckless adventures abroad into something that, if taken away, will ruin local economies across the land.
But, regardless of the electoral outcome, Americans have concluded current spending levels are unsustainable. They're afraid of the cliff, but they know some tough medicine lies ahead. So, House Republicans need to offer the president a principled way out and be prepared to walk away if he doesn't accept. This offer helps him avoid a lot of hard choices, too, and it would put the Senate in the position of accepting less than it sought or risk being triangulated out of the negotiations.
The president views this as his big chance. So should House Republicans. If they play it right, they can emerge as the true source of legislative answers and perhaps win the battle to save America from itself.
About Ford O'Connell Republican Strategist, Conservative Activist, and Political Analyst
Daniel Mitchell Fellow at the Cato Institute
Bill Frenzel Guest Scholar in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution
James Capretta Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center
Brad Bannon President of Bannon Communications Research
Patrick Sharma Explainer-in-Chief at Newsbound.com
Michael Lind Cofounder of the New America Foundation