Fiscal cliff fallout: The conservative rebellion against John Boehner

Democrats weren't impressed with Boehner's gauzy $800 million revenue offer, but some on the Right are downright livid

Boehner (R-Ohio) speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill on Nov. 29.
(Image credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

House Speaker John Boehner has an unenviable dilemma: The House needs to pass legislation to keep the U.S. on the safe side of the fiscal cliff, preferably by Jan. 1, and it must be acceptable to President Obama, the Democratic-controlled Senate, and enough of his own GOP caucus that he can both pass the bill and keep his speakership. If Boehner fails, the public will blame him and his party — in a new Pew/Washington Post poll, 53 percent of respondents say they would fault congressional Republicans for driving us off the fiscal cliff, while only 27 percent would blame Obama — and everyone's taxes will automatically revert to higher, pre-Bush levels, giving the GOP a big loss on its signature issue. On top of that, several polls show that voters decidedly favor the Democrats' positions in the fiscal cliff negotiations.

"Republicans have a bad hand," says John Podhoretz in the New York Post. "Make that a terrible hand," and they're playing a game of poker where "you can't trade in any cards — or fold."

So on Monday, Boehner made his opening bid, countering Obama's demand that tax rates go up on the top 2 percent of earners with an offer of $800 billion in new revenue from reforming the tax code to close unspecified deductions and loopholes. Democrats were unimpressed, but congressional Republicans consider the offer of new tax revenue — made with explicit support from Boehner's conservative House leadership colleagues like Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) — a big concession. So do many on the Right, and they are not at all happy about it. Several GOP lawmakers and outside groups aligned with the Tea Party trashed Boehner's opening bid as a growth-stifling betrayal of core Republican principles.

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But conservatives aren't revolting against Boehner and his cronies just because they "sold out their own convictions by agreeing to raise taxes by $800 billion," says Erick Erickson at RedState. Team Boehner also purged a group of rebellious conservatives from key committees "as punishment for being authentically fiscal conservatives" and voting against the House leadership's wishes. We conservatives now "know the opposition is not just across the aisle, but in charge of our own side in the House of Representatives." The only way to fix this is to find real conservatives to unseat them in the 2014 GOP primaries.

"Oh, puleez," says Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post. This GOP offer of new revenue was first made in the summer of 2011, so if these nihilistic "all-or-nothing radicals" want to primary Boehner, Cantor, and even solid conservatives like Paul Ryan, "they are a year and a half late." Plus, these harebrained challenges only hurt Republicans — remember Richard Mourdock? "Smart and sensible conservatives should ignore the drivers of the right-wing loony train and carry on."

But carry on how? "The truth is, every way you look at it, the GOP is trapped," says Podhoretz. Conservatives can fight all they want, but eventually "Republican politicians will cave and give the president most of what he wants. The only real question is when." The sooner the better, says Byron York at The Washington Examiner. It's time to change the debate, and the only way to do that is to give Obama his top-tier tax hikes. This is what the GOP should say right now:

While we do not support raising taxes on anyone, especially in this weak economy, we will accept the president's top-bracket rate increase in exchange for trillion-dollar cuts in the big three entitlement programs. Doing that would forestall the Democratic attack that the GOP will not bend on tax rates. Instead, it would be the president who's not bending.... There's no doubt Republicans will take a hit from their supporters if they stop opposing a rate increase on the highest earners. But they are in a weak position and will lose eventually. Changing their stance sooner rather than later would highlight Obama's intransigence on entitlements and spending.

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