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John Sivolella: If the GOP majority in the House is blamed for failing to reach agreement, it will descend into minority status for a decade or more – as will, perhaps, the party itself. This Nov. 16, 2012 file photo shows House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and President Barack Obama speaking to reporters in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. (Carolyn Kaster/AP, File)

As the lame-duck Congress returns from Thanksgiving recess this week, the nation will begin to find out what, if anything, the GOP learned from the debacle that was the 2012 election.

This moment in history is unique for the GOP because it’s in a position to provide instant feedback to the electorate about whether and how it intends to evolve. Their only real business prior to the New Year is working with President Obama and their Democratic congressional colleagues to avoid the $580 billion (equivalent to 5.1 percent of GDP) “fiscal cliff” and near-certain double-dip recession. And, yes, increases in tax revenue — along with cuts to popular entitlement programs – are on the table.

Now that the nation’s proverbial economic back is up against the wall, GOP leadership must work in good faith towards an innovative solution while staying true to fiscally conservative principles — something it’s struggled with mightily in the past.

[A]fter years of kicking the can down the road, both sides have real incentive to cooperate to avoid the fiscal cliff.

Republicans feathered their electoral bed with a no-new-tax pledge, buoyed as they’ve been for over 20 years by activists like Grover Norquist and, more recently, by the party’s newest conservative activists — Tea Party freshmen — many of whom still see little room for negotiating higher taxes.

Problem is: This message didn’t resonate with voters in the recent election. Exit polls indicated that Obama’s drum-beat that wealthier Americans should pay more in taxes seemed to take with a majority of the electorate. There was hope in those polls for Republicans, though, as voters also agreed that the federal government was too big.

In seminal negotiations of this type between branches in divided government, modern history tells us that the president often holds many of the cards. The results can be disastrous for a House majority that doesn’t read the electorate correctly when it is negotiating.

Newt Gingrich, for example, fumbled away the promise of the Republican Revolution of 1994 when he was blamed for overstepping in negotiations with President Bill Clinton, leading to a shutdown of the federal government. Far from rallying the electorate around a new way of doing business in Washington, the embarrassing gridlock turned people off – and they took it out on the GOP.

Any such effect will only be magnified this time around. Obama’s approval ratings now stand at 54 percent. His campaign manager suggested shortly after the election that Obama may remain in pseudo-election mode, touring the country and adapting his grassroots-mobilizing advantage to sell his fiscal-cliff negotiating positions.

House Speaker John Boehner, in contrast, lacks a bully pulpit and must work to unify his caucus while minimizing fissures within his party. He must also contend with the fact that Congress remains unpopular, and voters in 2012 lacked confidence in the GOP’s willingness and ability to fix the economy.

The solution for the GOP lies somewhere along the path Boehner is currently pursuing — avoiding the cliff for another six months to a year, and tying the postponement to a framework for further negotiation on both comprehensive tax code and entitlement reform. These issues won’t be solved by New Year’s Eve, but a framework to bridge negotiations is within reach — and is in the best interests of the Republican party.

Now that the nation’s proverbial economic back is up against the wall, GOP leadership must work in good faith towards an innovative solution while staying true to fiscally conservative principles — something it’s struggled with mightily in the past.

The GOP lost the tax-revenue battle on Nov. 6th – and Obama maintains that he will not agree to a framework that does not include some form of tax increase. The challenge for GOP leadership is to interject forward-thinking tax policy reform while working to achieve milestones on the spending side, like restructuring Medicare and, perhaps, Social Security. These entitlement areas remain fraught with political danger, however, so Republicans must tread cautiously.

Washington may be dysfunctional, but it retains enough of a survival instinct to know when to get a deal done. That’s where it is now — after years of kicking the can down the road, both sides have real incentive to cooperate to avoid the fiscal cliff. Being blamed for failure to reach agreement would ensure a failed presidency for President Obama and eliminate any pretense he has of attaining the liberal policy goals he’s outlined for his second term. If the GOP majority in the House were to be blamed it would descend into minority status for a decade or more – as would, perhaps, the party itself.

The sooner the GOP defines itself for 2014 and 2016, the better. This historic policy negotiation is the first step.

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  • M. Jacobs

    Don’t the Democrats have to compromise?
    As I remember after the election in 2004 I heard similar rubbish about the demise of the Dems.
    Maybe elections are candidate driven? You don’t seriously belive people voted for Obama because he said he’d tax the”wealthy”.
    This was no debacle. He won electorally because of the way the college is suppoaed to work in a close election. A change of 335,000 votes in 3 states and Romney wins.50% votwd for Obama and 50% didn’t.

    • massappeal

      Well, actually, Obama’s margin of victory is up over 3% and climbing as votes continue to be certified by various states. (There’s some irony in the fact that Romney’s vote total now stands at 47%.) Obama has about a 4.4 million vote margin in the popular vote. (For comparison purposes, Bush had about a 3 million popular vote margin over Kerry in 2004.)

      Add in the fact that Democrats won seats in the House and Senate, and won the total popular vote in both the House and Senate, and it seems reasonable to conclude that—to the extent possible—the voters did indeed deliver a “mandate” in support of the Democratic agenda.

      Barack Obama has said—publicly and repeatedly—since 2007 that he wants tax rates on income above $250,000 to rise to their Clinton-era levels. Anyone who didn’t know that was a key part of Pres. Obama’s agenda hasn’t been paying very close attention.

  • JMLorimer

    As a lifelong Democrat and a retired senior citizen of very modest income, I think we have to make a serious effort to trim entitlements. I’d be in favor of means testing for Social Security and Medicare, tying Social Security increases to the Consumer Price Index, levying FICA deductions on all income, and perhaps gradually raising the retirement age a bit, or at least raising the age at which people can retire early and receive benefits, If we dig in our heels and say “No changes in Social Security and Medicare”, and the Republicans dig in their heels and say “No new taxes” , nothing will get done. The Democrats need to be willing to compromise too.

    • massappeal

      Just for the record, the retirement age for Social Security has already been raised to 67.

      Also, it’s not quite accurate to say “nothing will get done” if both sides “dig in their heels”. Without a deal before Dec. 31, two things happen: income tax rates return to their Clinton-era levels (increasing tax collections by nearly $5 trillion over the next decade), and about $100 billion in federal spending (half in the Pentagon, none in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) gets “sequestered”.

      At that point, Pres. Obama would be in a position to offer a deal that includes income tax cuts for 98% of Americans, some increase in defense and “non-defense discretionary” spending, all while continuing to reduce the deficit (which has, on a percentage basis, fallen faster over the past 3 years than at any time since the immediate aftermath of WW II).

      • tucanofulano

        Sadly for Americans Obama will just piss away the tax increases on such things as Moochies terrible school lunch demands.

  • http://read-write-blue.blogspot.com/ RWB

    “The solution for the GOP lies somewhere along the path Boehner is currently
    pursuing — avoiding the cliff for another six months to a year, and tying the
    postponement to a framework for further negotiation on both comprehensive tax
    code and entitlement reform. These issues won’t be solved by New Year’s Eve,
    but a framework to bridge negotiations is within reach — and is in the best
    interests of the Republican Party.”

    So this well rehearsed post suggests that it is in the “best interests of the
    Republican Party” to kick the can down the road. I care not what is in the best interest of the Republican Party. I only care about what
    is in the best interest of our Republic.

    It is in our best interest to stop spending 40% more than we collect in taxes.
    It is in our best interest to stop monetizing our debt by continued quantitative easing.
    It is in our best interest have a simple tax system that will collect 18% of GDP (the historical average).
    It is in our best interest to enact policies that will sustain 5% growth in our economy.
    It is in our best interest to reduce our Federal Debt from $16,307,488,943,564.23 to a number less like the distance to Pluto, in inches.
    It is in our best interest to get this done now!
    Or we will suffer greatly and be condemned by the generations of Americans that are forced to pay our bills.

    • massappeal

      You’ll be happy to know that, on a percentage basis, federal deficits have fallen more in the past 3 years than at any time since the immediate aftermath of WW II.

      Also, if it truly is “in our best interest have a simple tax system that will collect 18% of GDP”, then we need to raise taxes significantly…because current federal tax collections only amount to about 15% of GDP.

  • tucanofulano

    The Republicans and other Patriots ought to walk away from the USA-hating Obama and leave him to turn slowly in the wind.

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