Now is the moment for the GOP to blink. A nervous world hopes and prays that the Congressional Deficit Committee aka the "Super Committee" will agree to serious measures to plug our yawning budget gap.
With the EU teetering on the verge of pandemonium and growth slowing across the globe, an agreement that would meaningfully improve the fiscal prospects of the U.S. would be like salve on a festering wound. Republicans have an opportunity to broker such a deal, and emerge as respected and trusted stewards of our nation. To do so, they have to give ground on tax hikes.
Why now? Because they have won the battle and now must win the war.
For all the derision poured on the Tea Party, the truth is that the populist uprising against wanton government spending that united so many middle class Americans and elected so many to Congress in 2010 has changed the nation’s discourse. While promises to shrink government had once been a rote but meaningless campaign soundbite, dedication to the cause was considered something of a crank calling.
Today, after the pressure brought to bear on both Republicans and Democrats by disgusted taxpayers, realigning our revenues and outlays tops the nation’s agenda. Imagine: Democrats on the deficit committee are offering up six dollars of cuts for each dollar of revenue increase. The proposal smacks of capitulation. This would not have happened without the Tea Party and its Republican allies.
However, the GOP is in danger of losing the support of voters worried that Republicans’ intransigence is political, not purposeful. We are at an inflection point.
During the summer’s fractious debates over the debt ceiling limit, who could not but admire the resolution of Rep. Paul Ryan and others in Congress who pushed hard – successfully-- for unprecedented spending cuts. And, who resisted equally forcefully any offsetting tax hikes.
President Obama was scalded by those on the left for “giving in” to GOP demands and for not insisting on tax increases to soften spending cuts. He had no choice.
However, that battle left scars. The brinksmanship is blamed for adding to the insecurity of the nation and the downgrade of our triple-A credit status. Americans wonder: if cutting spending is so positive, why would it impair the standing of our bonds?
The stand-off also led to President Obama’s newly aggressive attacks on the wealthy. He has ramped up the distasteful “we versus them” campaign pitch, which has only weakened him further in the polls. Unhappily for the GOP, he’s not alone. Voter approval ratings for Congress have never been worse.
Americans are not stupid. They know our country is in trouble, and they want the problems fixed. They desperately want leaders who will address our needs – jobs, education, infrastructure, more jobs. They are also pretty sure that simply cutting government spending is not the answer.
Poll after poll has shown Americans in favor of raising taxes on the wealthy. So much has been written about the widening gap between rich and poor that the case has been made in the court of public opinion.
Also, the country has been convinced – rightly so- of the need for tax reform. Republicans should take the high ground here, allow the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts for the top income brackets and at the same time push for serious tax reform, allowing a net increase in revenues.
This will be a bitter pill to swallow for some of those who have signed the “no new taxes” pledge sponsored by Americans for Tax Reform. They should be reminded that their obligation is not to Grover Norquist but to the American people. They should also be reminded of the big picture: winning the White House in 2012.
Government spending is too high relative to GDP today, an excellent argument for cutting spending. However, because of the recession, revenues are also too low. While raising taxes during a slowdown is not appealing, the impact should be softened by having the increases take hold in 2013 or 2014. It doesn’t matter.
What does matter is that by coming before the American people and showing an ability to compromise, Republicans will eviscerate President Obama’s campaign. Since all he offers is a promise to combat GOP obstruction, removing it will leave him speechless, literally.
Our great country needs new leadership. Our jobless need hope, our workers need inspiration. President Obama provides neither. It is essential that Republicans provide both.