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Call Obama’s bluff this time

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By John Barnhart


    The calendar on my computer says we are in the waning days of 2012, but the scenario playing out in Washington makes me wonder if we have somehow jumped back to the summer of 2011. The wrangling over avoiding the “fiscal cliff” looks just like the political gamesmanship we saw back concerning raising our national debt ceiling. Our most recent election left the same scenario in place with Barack Obama still in the White House and the Republican majority in the House of Representatives intact. Once again, President Obama is trying to roll the Republicans. “Give me a big tax hike now and, maybe, we’ll talk about spending cuts later.”
    The check’s in the mail.
    Once again, the Republicans are giving President Obama a club that he can use to later beat them over the head. The club consists of their refusal to let tax rates for those making more than $250,000 per year rise to their pre-Bush tax cut level.
    The odd thing is that, while they won’t let those tax rates rise, they are saying that they are willing to raise substantial tax revenue by capping or eliminating tax deductions for wealthy individuals. This seems to be an exercise in semantic hair splitting. If you raise somebody’s tax rates, he pays more taxes. If you eliminate or limit somebody’s  tax deductions, he pays more taxes. What’s the difference?
    The difference for President Obama, however, is that Republicans are handing him a weapon that he will use against them, after he lets the country go over the “fiscal cliff,” something that he is irresponsible enough to do if he believes his party can benefit from it. He is going to blame Republicans claiming that it’s their fault because they were so determined to defend the rich. He will be able to do this effectively because most of the main stream media will help him. He did this in 2011 and it worked so well that he’s doing it again. Like so much of what President Obama does, this confrontation with the Republicans is a case of drama orchestrated for political purposes and, Republicans look like they are going to fall into his trap.
    I think Republicans would be best served by calling President Obama’s bluff, offering him a true compromise, something he has even attempted to do. They need offer to do something that’s really unpalatable for them, and demand that the “Democrats” do something equally unpalatable for them. The Republicans should offer to allow the Bush tax cuts for those making over $250,000 per year and eliminate most deductions. In return, they should demand that the “Democrats” agree to making some hard budget cuts  that affect their sacred cows — now, not later. Later never seems to come. These cuts must be part of the same package as the tax hikes. The cuts must include reforms of Medicare and Social Security. These reforms must include raising the Medicare retirement age to 67 and means testing so that well-heeled Medicare recipients pay higher premiums. If the “Democrats don’t agree to these tough cuts, then they won’t get their tax hike. After all, it’s not reasonable to expect the Republicans to just meekly submit to getting mugged
    This approach deprives President Obama of his “they’re the party of the rich” propaganda weapon. It also lands the grenade back at the “Democrats’” feet. It will be hard for them to accuse the Republicans of being obstructionists if they refuse to make the cuts Republicans want after being offered a fat tax hike that they want.
    This approach will also force the “Democrats” to show us whether they really want to avoid a fiscal crisis or if they are, in reality, willing to put wreck America’s economy for the sake of scoring political points against the opposition.