Scoot over Democrats. The Far Right is launching its own attacks against Speaker John Boehner’s fiscal-cliff counter proposal—a sign that unrest could be brewing within his House GOP Conference.
“Sadly, this plan leaves conservatives wanting,” declared Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, the advocacy group partially backed by billionaires David and Charles Koch, in a statement on Monday.
Meanwhile, Heritage Action, the Heritage Foundation's lobbying wing, alerted its members in an e-mail: “Not only are Republican leaders asking their members to go back on their promise not to raise taxes on the American people, but they appear unwilling to fight for the bold entitlement reforms that won them the House in 2010.”
Such rapid-fire conservative backlash underscores—once again—that the Ohioan and his leadership team face more than a tough fight to reach a compromise with Obama and Democrats to resolve a year-end fiscal crisis. Their allies are also pulling them not to bend in a deal to avert the new year combination of tax hikes and across-the-board budget cuts that some economists say could plunge the country back into recession.
The plan that Boehner, joined by his leadership colleagues, unveiled hours earlier was pitched not as a fiscal cliff solution so much as a deficit-reduction proposal. Over a decade, it would take $2.2 trillion off the nation’s tab and raise $800 billion in revenue from “pro-growth tax reform that closes special interest loopholes and deductions while lowering rates.” Alhough Boehner and company didn’t specify which loopholes they would close or which deductions they would eliminate, they claim they could cut the deficit without letting anyone’s tax rates rise come Jan. 1. Allowing even the wealthiest to maintain the tax cuts given them during the administration of President George W. Bush is a hard line Republicans have drawn in the sand.
Boehner’s proposal would also cut spending by $1.4 trillion by raising the Medicare retirement age from 65 to 67, forcing wealthier beneficiaries to pay higher Medicare premiums, and other measures.
Boehner’s plan was actually a counteroffer to the White House’s proffer last week to generate $1.6 trillion in new revenue over the next 10 years. More than $900 billion of that would come from letting the Bush tax cuts expire for those earning more than $250,000 annually, which most congressional Republicans oppose. Obama also offered to cut the budget by up to $600 billion, largely from Medicare, and he wants as much as $50 billion in new infrastructure spending.
Boehner blasted the administration’s offer—technically made by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner—as not serious. In turn, the White House on Monday criticized Boehner’s plan as nothing new and derided its lack of details about which tax loopholes would be closed and which deductions eliminated.
Optimistically, the dueling plans could represent legitimate opening offers.
At the same time, conservative gripes about Boehner’s plan suggest that House Republicans will find nothing but pressure from the base to walk away rather than encouragement to inch closer toward compromise.
“In 1990, President George H.W. Bush broke his solemn pledge: ‘Read my lips: no new taxes.’ It cost him the election,” Heritage Action’s alert read. “In more than 20 years since, congressional Republicans have avoided making the same mistake. And now … our leaders in Congress are about to make precisely the wrong decision.”
AFP Policy Director James Valvo chimed in: “After immediately giving in to higher taxes following the election, the speaker has now followed up by pulling the best parts of the House budget off the table.”
Whether such outside voices will foster internal dissension for Boehner within his Conference is uncertain.
There are signs that the speaker may already be working to head off an insurrection as he tries to negotiate a deal with Democrats.
Boehner’s steering committee stripped four rank-and-file members of coveted committee assignments, including conservatives David Schweikert of Arizona, Justin Amash of Michigan, and Tim Huelskamp of Kansas. Various reasons were given, including their records of voting against their leaders’ wishes.
Club for Growth President Chris Chocola immediately cast the move as payback for taking “principled stands on behalf of pro-growth policies, often bringing them in conflict with the leadership.”
Huelskamp, a freshman and tea party favorite, was not contrite.
He said he recently challenged all 238 of his GOP colleagues, “to reaffirm their pledges to oppose tax increases.
“Kansans who sent me to Washington did so to change the way things are done – not to provide cover for Establishment Republicans who only give lip service to conservative principles,” he said.