Speaker John Boehner, as I described in more detail earlier, is in an impossible situation when it comes to resolving the fiscal cliff in a way that accommodates reality without alienating House conservatives. But that doesn’t mean he’s played things perfectly. Far from it. Of all the mistakes he’s made since the election, the biggest was allowing President Obama to get away with raising his tax demands.
During an election in which Obama gave very few details about his second term agenda, one thing he made clear was that he wanted to raise taxes on those earning more than $250,000 by allowing the Bush era rates to expire on the income group. Doing that would raise taxes by $824 billion over a decade. But once the election ended and “fiscal cliff” discussions began, Obama raised his demands to $1.6 trillion in tax hikes — double what he campaigned on. Now, it’s true that Obama did unveil a debt proposal in 2011 to raise taxes by $1.6 trillion and he did occasionally mention that proposal during the campaign. But the one point that he hammered home again and again was his demand that taxes go up on those earning more than $250,000 — the top two percent of earners. That’s what people remember, not the $1.6 trillion line item in a proposal from 2011.
After the election, when Obama came out with his $1.6 trillion demand, Boehner should have done a better job of communicating that this represented double what Obama pushed for during the campaign. But that point was never driven home well. Instead, early on in the process, Boehner offered around $800 billion in revenue, and that became the floor for tax increases rather than the ceiling. The Wall Street Journal reported on the following exchange earlier this month:
At one point, according to notes taken by a participant, Mr. Boehner told the president, “I put $800 billion [in tax revenue] on the table. What do I get for that?”
“You get nothing,” the president said. “I get that for free.”
In reality, post-election, Boehner should have started off at $0 and Obama should have been at around $800 billion. But now, Boehner has already gone as high as $1 trillion in tax hikes and Obama says that’s insufficient. At the same time, Obama says that his willingness to accept $1.2 trillion in tax hikes — 50% more than he campaigned on — represents a compromise on his part. Allowing him to get away with this was an inexplicable tactical error by Boehner.