At the White House on Friday, President Obama apparently told the “summoned” that he wants Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell to reach a deal on the income threshold for tax hikes along, I assume, with a few other partial “cliff” fixes. If they don’t reach a deal, Obama will have Reid call for a Senate vote on Obama’s plan to increase taxes on everyone earning $250,000 or more, plus an extension of expiring unemployment benefits.
The idea is to apply pressure on McConnell to reach a deal in order to avoid a vote on Obama’s plan. Such a vote, as I have said, would be a win-win for Obama. Either he gets his tax hike on “the wealthy” or Republicans (in one chamber of Congress or the other) get blamed for permitting a tax increase on all taxpayers in order to protect top earners.
How should Republicans respond? If Reid and McConnell can agree on a deal that includes suitable spending cuts, Republicans should accept it. But this seems unlikely.
If Reid proposes Obama’s plan on the Senate floor, Republicans should seek to amend it to include appropriate spending cuts and savings. If Reid won’t allow consideration of amendments (his normal practice) Republicans should filibuster. In the unlikely event that Reid allows amendments and they are defeated, Republicans should filibuster.
Senate Republicans will be blamed for filibustering against tax relief for the middle class. But if, as seems likely, Reid won’t allow amendments, they can respond that they filibustered only after Reid wouldn’t permit them to propose spending cuts via the amendment process. Since the public supports cutting spending, and since the blocking of amendments seems inherently unfair, the Republican position will not entirely be despised.
The alternative is for Senate Republicans to permit the up-or-down vote, i.e., passage, and hope that the House kills the tax increase. But the House might not kill it — enough Republicans may peel off to enable the tax hike to pass. In any event, an up-or-down vote in the House would leave House Republicans vulnerable however the vote turns out.
With so much riding on the 2014 House races, Senate Republicans should be willing to filibuster for the team.
Whether they would be willing to do so is another question, especially since Republicans are probably going to have to swallow some tax increases eventually. But they need not swallow them now, in response to a largely artificial deadline. Rather than giving up on the possibility of negotiated spending cuts on the specious ground that there isn’t enough time left to agree on them, Republicans should blow off the artificial deadline and, for the time being, hold out for serious cuts.