Round three of the great American tax and spending debate of the early 21st century is opening.
There are nine Senate Democrats who are most interested in a comprehensive "deal" between President Obama and Republican House Speaker John Boehner: They are Mark Begich of Alaska, Max Baucus of Montana, Al Franken of Minnesota, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Mark Udall of Colorado.
These are the most vulnerable of the Senate's majority. A growth-destroying round of ruinous tax hikes will cripple their re-election campaigns right out of the box. Indeed, any vote that defines the campaign ahead -- yes, it's already underway -- is perilous for incumbents of a president's party facing the six-year mark of the Chief Executive's election.
Six GOP senators were unseated in 2006 -- Virginia's George Allen, Montana's Conrad Burns, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Mike DeWine of Ohio, Jim Talent of Missouri and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.
The impeachment cycles of 1998 and 1974 are not good measures of anything, but the elections of 1986 seem to give us the best parallel to those that loom in two years. Ronald Reagan was elected in a landslide in 1980, and brought along with him a number of marginal GOP senate seats that were then given back to Democrats in 1986. Republicans lost a net eight seats, a grim reminder for Harry Reid that all majorities are fleeting.
So do Democrats standing for re-election in 2014 want to run on crippling the not-for-profit sector by limiting or ending the charitable deduction, as Obama has proposed? Are they in favor of devaluing every home in America by capping or ending the mortgage interest deduction?
Speaker John Boehner sits atop a caucus with more than 100 of its members first elected in the 2010 and 2012 cycles. The speaker did a great deal to bring these new members to D.C., having personally campaigned for many of them. They owe him.
The Speaker has been a skilled player in Beltway negotiations for more than two decades, and has been running the GOP caucus for six years. While the allegiance of any elected is fickle, and the classes of '10 and '12 didn't run on promises to raise taxes or shatter middle-class deductions, Boehner will decide what the GOP agrees to and what it will refuse.
It is hard to imagine the GOP losing its House majority in 2014. Even in the botched elections of 1998, the GOP only lost five seats, and the "six year itch" elections of 2006 and 1986 saw the president's party lose 31 and 5 seats respectively. (The House GOP in 1986 dwindled to 177 members. It simply couldn't go much lower.)
So Speaker Boehner begins negotiations with a strong hand. The president won the weakest re-election in modern times, and Harry Reid is looking forward to an awful 2014 map and even worse historical precedents.
The Manhattan-Beltway media elite wants Boehner to cave. They are telling him that he risks ruin if he is seen to be obstructing the president. But the old pro knows better than that. He knows that whatever the details of the deal that emerges, it won't drive the elections two years hence if it isn't a GOP base-destroying, party-splitting, donor-demoralizing tax hikes and deduction caps.
The elections of 2010 and 2012 were fought on spending and entitlements, and the score is tied. At least one and probably two more elections will be needed for clarity on the country's choice. It is a long, exhausting and harrowing battle over first principles, and it is far from over. Earlier this month, 64.2 million voted for President Obama; 60 million for Mitt Romney. In the negotiations ahead, John Boehner represents not just his caucus, but also those 60 million voters.
Examiner Columnist Hugh Hewitt is a law professor at Chapman University Law School and a nationally syndicated radio talk show host who blogs daily at HughHewitt.com.