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Beam: Party extremes calling shots

Last Modified: Friday, December 21, 2012 5:33 PM

By Jim Beam / American Press

What does it say about this country’s political system when the fate of its financial future is in the hands of a small group of diehard Republicans and an equally determined liberal wing of the Democratic Party? The GOP group is opposed to taxes of any kind. The unrealistic Democrats don’t want anyone to touch Medicare, Social Security and other government entitlement programs.

A small number of Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives flexed their muscles last week when they refused to go along with taxing Americans making more than $1 million a year. Some of them even want to replace Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, who proposed the tax increase as a way to break a deadlock with President Obama. The president wanted to tax everyone making more than $250,000 a year, but agreed to raise that to $400,000.

If Boehner had been able to get his party members to support his Plan B that included the tax increase for Americans making over $1 million, it wasn’t going anywhere. Senate Democrats said it was dead on arrival because they think Obama has made enough concessions to avoid a “fiscal cliff” that could result in higher taxes on all Americans and devastating budget cuts.

Obama and Boehner have been engaged in off-and-on private talks in an effort to stave off the fiscal cliff. And they may still meet to avoid what economists believe would trigger another recession. Meanwhile, members of the House went home for the Christmas holidays after Boehner couldn’t come up with the votes to pass Plan B.

The House left town after throwing the next decision in the laps of Obama and the Democrats. It passed legislation to extend tax cuts to all Americans and another measure containing what the GOP calls responsible budget reductions. That leaves the next decision up to the Senate, but don’t expect Democrats there to go along.

Actually, Obama and Boehner are fairly close to a solution, according to The Associated Press. And some believe the differences aren’t worth haggling over.

Chris Frates writes in National Journal, a political news magazine, that a fiscal deal is still possible. He said it’s much easier to negotiate when members of Congress are back home and citizens are more interested in the Christmas holidays.

“... In fact, some of the biggest breakthroughs in the negotiations so far have come after lawmakers have left town,” Frates said. “Just last Friday, for example, Boehner offered to raise tax rates on millionaires.”

Two other National Journal writers gave its readers excellent insider information on how Plan B failed to pass the House and the effect that might have on Boehner’s speakership.

Michael Catalini quoted U.S. Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio, who is retiring from the House. He offered a pessimistic view of what the rejection of Plan B by Republican ultra conservatives says about the GOP.

“It’s the continuing dumbing down of the Republican Party, and we are going to be seen, more and more as a bunch of extremists that can’t even get the majority of our own people to support the policies we’re putting forward,” he said. “If you’re not a governing majority, you’re not going to be a majority very long.”

Billy House of National Journal said American Majority Action, a conservative group, thinks Boehner’s speakership is “on the ropes” because he couldn’t unite his party.

“Speaker Boehner said today’s bill would pass. His credibility as a leader has evaporated,” said Ron Meyer, a spokesman for the American Majority.

House said LaTourette, who is close to Boehner, doesn’t see a problem for the speaker. According to LaTourette, to say the speaker is in trouble is, “like saying the superintendent of an insane asylum should be discharged because he couldn’t control the crazy people. I mean that’s nuts.”

What everyone appears to be talking about here is opposition to any tax increases coming from some 30 House Republicans. That’s a small number, but enough to kill any tax bill if those 30 vote with Democrats. And a number of House votes are strictly along party lines (241 Republicans to 191 Democrats). Three seats are vacant.

If Obama and Boehner could ever come to terms, those 30 Republicans wouldn’t be a factor. Enough Democrats would vote to approve the deal. Unfortunately, neither man wants to offend members of his party. However, there is a way both can get support from within their party. Joseph Minarik, a research director and former official during the Bill Clinton presidency, told The AP how it’s done.

“When you walk into a room and represent a group and you have to give ground to get a deal, you have to stay in the room as long as you can and you have to walk out with blood on your brow,” Minarik said. “Otherwise, the people outside the room don’t believe you’ve fought hard for them.”

Obviously, Obama and Boehner don’t have enough blood on their brows yet. We can only hope they get together again and convince a majority in Congress that each of them has gone the limit and that a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff needs to be signed, sealed and delivered. A handful of conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats shouldn’t be allowed to decide what is best for the rest of us.

• • •

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or jbeam@americanpress.com

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