The fiscal cliff talks: Can a doomsday plan save the GOP?

If the GOP can't beat President Obama on tax hikes for the rich, their sneakiest move might be to surrender

House Speaker John Boehner and the GOP may be considering letting tax hikes through to gain leverage later.
(Image credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

President Obama is pretty insistent that come Jan. 1, the wealthy pay higher marginal tax rates on any income above $250,000 a year, and he has a trump card: If nothing else happens, they will. Republicans are pretty insistent that the Bush-era tax rates stay in place for everybody, including the wealthy, but what to do about their weak hand? Fold, says Jonathan Karl at ABC News. "Republicans are seriously considering a Doomsday Plan if fiscal cliff talks collapse entirely": Give Obama his tax hike on the rich, at least for now, and "nothing more." Then, the president has no leverage, but Republicans do: The debt ceiling needs to be raised not long after the New Year.

Republicans are right — the "doomsday plan" may well be their "best way out of a bad situation," says Sahil Kapur at Talking Points Memo. Here's how it would work: GOP leaders in the House bring up a bill, already passed in the Senate, to keep tax rates low for everyone but the wealthy, then send it to Obama with House Democrats voting yes and Republicans voting "present" to "register their disapproval with letting the top marginal rates go up." House GOP aides deny the report, with one calling the idea "stupid," but it actually sounds pretty clever. The Bush tax cuts are Obama's "critical leverage" — "take that away and suddenly Republicans are in control," letting them call the shots when the president comes asking for more revenue, dealing with the looming steep budget cuts, and extending unemployment benefits, among other parts of his agenda.

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Peter Weber, The Week US

Peter has worked as a news and culture writer and editor at The Week since the site's launch in 2008. He covers politics, world affairs, religion and cultural currents. His journalism career began as a copy editor at a financial newswire and has included editorial positions at The New York Times Magazine, Facts on File, and Oregon State University.