Today, Speaker of the House John Boehner received a second chance. After ramming through a fiscal cliff deal that made conservatives shudder – income taxes increased on everyone making more than $400,000 per year, the payroll tax cut expired, unemployment insurance was extended, and pork was ladled by the bucketful into law – Boehner came under heavy fire. But conservatives recognized that the true test of Boehner’s conservatism is yet to come: the debt ceiling debate.
The fiscal cliff deal was the culmination of a deal made in 2011 about the debt ceiling. That deal was the truly awful one for conservatives: it enshrined $1.2 trillion in cuts into law, but stated that if a magical supercommittee of Congressmembers could not agree on what to cut, a pre-set across-the-board spending cut would take place beginning January 1, 2013. Meanwhile, the Bush tax rates were set to expire on that same date. This was the so-called fiscal cliff.
Thanks to the terms of the Budget Control Act and the timing of the Bush tax rate expiration, Republicans set themselves up for failure. They allowed President Obama to link expiration of the Bush tax rates to cuts in the budget – and they set up a no-lose proposition for Obama, who doesn’t care about the destruction of the economy (that just makes government more necessary, in his view) and is happy to watch taxes rise.
The fiscal cliff deal was an attempt to secure as many of the Bush tax rates as possible – and to take the tax issue off the table permanently, allowing the discussion about spending cuts to take place. It achieved the former – President Obama had no interest in preserving lower tax rates for high income earners, since that would violate his sense of tyrannical sense of “fairness” – but not the latter.
And that’s where the rubber meets the road. The assumption of Boehner and other Republicans in Congress is that the fiscal cliff deal would forces President Obama to bifurcate tax increases and spending cuts. That simply did not happen. Obama has announced already than any cuts – even the ones that are scheduled to take place automatically in two months – will have to be paired with further tax increases on higher income earners.
Boehner’s task is to insist upon that bifurcation – and to allow the government to shut down to essential services if Obama refuses spending cuts or insists on more tax increases before granting such cuts.
That was the choice House members had today. They had to decide which Republican was best equipped not to compromise with Obama – the era of compromise is over, and Obama has ended it with his thug tactics – but to fight him tooth and nail. To not budge.
Boehner understood that. As the pressure mounted for his ouster in the aftermath of the fiscal cliff deal, Boehner began to signal that he understands his mission. There will be no repeat of 2011, when cuts were delayed and tax increases were left on the table. There will be cuts. And cuts. And cuts.
President Obama is fond of saying that he ran on a platform of tax increases, and won. Over the past two days, Boehner ran on a platform of cuts without tax increases – and won. That is his mandate from Republicans. It is why he has promised no more face-to-face meetings with President Obama – photo ops for Obama to pretend at compromise while secretly trying to bully taxpayers. It is why he has pledged to give more conservatives positions on committees. It is why he said today that his number one goal would be to preserve a fiscally solvent country for our children and grandchildren.
This is John Boehner’s opportunity to stand up for what he always should have stood up for: cuts without tax increases, a thriving economy without blow-off-the-doors debt. He remained the Speaker because Republicans decided to entrust him with that mission. There is no room to budge. There is no room for compromise. The time for that passed after Republicans compromised, and President Obama promptly spat in their faces – and in the faces of generations yet to be born.
Ben Shapiro is Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News, and author of the upcoming book “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences America” (Threshold Editions, January 8, 2013).