On a host of social and cultural issues, the American public has moved away from positions traditionally held by the Republican party. Yet, the party has remained competitive electorally because of two core tenets of the party; keeping taxes low and generally constraining the growth of government. It is one of the few issues where the GOP maintains a considerable edge over Democrats. As we begin 2013, the GOP seems intent on squandering its last remaining issue advantage.
The current deal to avert the “fiscal cliff,” hastily agreed to in the Senate this morning and expected to come before the House later today, is a political disaster for the GOP. To secure the deal, they ceded a foundational principle of the party–raising tax rates. Worse, they agreed to a tax hike amid a struggling economy, forever damaging their argument about taxation’s negative impact on economic growth. In return they got….nothing.
There are no real spending cuts in the latest deal. There is no reform or curtailing of entitlements, remaining on track to devour future budgets. The deal even puts off the automatic spending cuts that were set to take effect on Wednesday and expands spending by extending unemployment benefits. At least Reagan and HW Bush were promised spending cuts when they acquiesced to higher taxes.
I had heard some plausible arguments that GOP support for higher taxes could be justified if it were paired with significant cuts in the size of government. Ok, but what’s the argument to support higher taxes in exchange for nothing? That the tax hike hypothetically would have been bigger? That’s enough to justify abandoning a foundation of one’s political philosophy?
Worse, the GOP decision to support the tax-only deal risks alienating the base voters they need to stay competitive. A look at November’s exit polls reveals the depths of the GOP’s misreading of the electorate.
In November, more than a third of voters, 35%, said that tax rates shouldn’t be increased for any income level. Romney won 75% support from this group of voters. Obama won 70% of those voters who said taxes should go up on those making more than $250K. What possible political advantage is there to abandon one’s core voters to appeal to the other side’s supporters?
63% of voters said taxes shouldn’t be increased to help cut the deficit. Romney won 61% of these voters. 51% of voters said government was doing too much and 74% of this group voted for Romney.
The issues of keeping taxes low on controlling government spending were the only issues keeping Romney and the GOP competitive. He narrowly edged Obama on handling the economy, but that issue was intertwined with the tax and spending issue.
In two months, we will again be embroiled in a debate over lifting the debt ceiling. The GOP establishment will argue that when the issue is solely focused on spending, they will have more leverage because of today’s deal. I don’t know what color the sky is in their world, but that notion is daft. One does not gain more leverage after cheaply conceding a core party principle.
If the House votes today to accept this deal, then the fate of the Whigs may be the best case scenario for today’s GOP establishment.