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January 4th, 2013 3:37 pm
Simple Logic

At the risk of being accused of celebrating a bad deal rather than merely arguing that it wasn’t as bad as some conservatives say(I am doing the latter, not the former), I hereby jump into the fray again to request a little logical consistency from fellow conservatives.

Imagine a scenario the direct converse of what just occurred this week.

Imagine that years ago Congress had passed a “temporary” tax hike to pay for a war and its aftermath. Imagine that the hike was scheduled to expire at 12:01 a.m. on a certain New Year’s Day. In other words, by law, taxes would drop on every American on Jan. 1 if Congress didn’t act.

Now, what if Congress suddenly decided it couldn’t “afford” to “lose” those revenues. So it began working to block the expiration of those higher rates.

Regardless of whether Congress acted on Dec. 30 (before the expiration of the higher rates) or on Jan. 1 or 2 (after the expiration), there is not a conservative on Earth who would argue that Congress was doing anything other than raising taxes if Congress indeed intervened. And if Congress had intervened to block the scheduled rate reduction for 99% of Americans, while allowing the lower rates to apply to 1%, there is not a conservative alive who would be celebrating the reprieve for the 1% rather than denouncing Congress for keeping the current rates for the 99%.

In that scenario, every conservative would treat the already-scheduled-by-law rate reduction as the baseline, and any change in that schedule as the intervention.

So why, if the situation is reversed, do conservatives yell that Congress “raised” taxes by acting to avert a scheduled tax hike for 99% of Americans? Why is it that the already-scheduled-by-law rate increase is treated as if it is the intervention, while the change in that schedule, in order to save lower rates for 99%, is treated as the baseline?


The point is that consistency should be required. Deciding whether something is a tax “hike” or a tax “cut” should not be a changeable proposition depending on the political circumstances. Either the law as written is the baseline, or it isn’t. You can’t say that in one case the law as written is the baseline, while in another case the existing rate structure is the baseline no matter what the law says is supposed to happen to that baseline.

Conservatives have every reason to grumble that President Obama refused to act to protect the final 1% (or whatever the exact number is) of Americans from higher taxes. But it is just not fair to blame Republican leaders for failing to act when they indeed already had acted months ago but the Senate and president refused to go along. Yes, yes, there were all sorts of different strategies and tactics that might have achieved better results (from a conservative standpoint) than were actually achieved, but that doesn’t mean that congressional Republicans are guilty of hiking taxes when they strove so mightily (even if ineffectually) to avoid raising even a single dollar of taxes.

The law as written is a mighty powerful instrument. President Obama had the law as written on his side, combined with the media, combined with the polls, combined with the political momentum of a very large electoral victory. For Republican leaders to fail to overcome the law, the media, the polls, and the political momentum might represent a lack of skill, but it is hardly a betrayal of principle. All that is at issue are small degrees of difference as to what was achievable as the best, or least bad, outcome from a very difficult situation. When a party controls only one half of one of the two “political” branches of government, and when the party controlling one-and-a half out of two (including the most powerful one) also has existing law (requiring higher rates as of Jan. 1) on its side, then the first party does not have one heck of a lot of leverage.

Do I think anybody else could have achieved a better outcome than John Boehner achieved? Yes, slightly. But was the final outcome an utter catastrophe, compared to what would have happened if nobody acted at all? Not in the least, as I have explained in other blog posts and columns. And there is something to be said for Boehner’s dogged attempts to avert catastrophe, and certainly something to be said for a result that saved married couples from higher tax rates for another $200,000 in earnings while for the first time inflation-indexing a very large exemption from the death tax.


By contrast, moving forward, the leverage is almost all in favor of conservative goals. Whereas in this week’s deal the alternative of failing to act would have meant a horrible outcome (tax-rate hikes for 100% of Americans), there now remains not a clause in current law that will force any more taxes to rise if Congress fails to act. But if Congress fails to act at all — if it does nothing — then conservative wishes for lower spending will indeed occur. On both taxes and spending, the leverage of doing nothing — and thus of allowing the law as written to proceed — is now in conservative hands.

What remains is for Republicans and conservatives to revamp their strategy, tactics and communications, so they come out better in political terms than they emerged from this fight. The first step needs to be to stop cannibalizing our own side and instead aim fire at the leftist president — and to start by focusing attention on the unpopular$1 trillion in taxes that just went into effect from the unpopular next phase of implementation of the unpopular ObamaCare law.

It’s time to stop bemoaning the past, and to start working to improve the next battles that will be upon us in very, very short order.

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