GOP out­cast to his party: Where’s your courage?

The Repub­li­cans’ ne­go­ti­at­ing po­si­tion is morally in­de­fen­si­ble.

Austin American-Statesman - - BALANCED VIEWS - FROM THE LEFT Mon­day Tues­day Wed­nes­day Thurs­day Milbank writes for The Washington Post; danamil­bank@wash­post.com. Fri­day Satur­day Sun­day

It

seems the Repub­li­cans have run out of squishy mod­er­ates to purge. Now they’re start­ing to run con­ser­va­tives out of town for be­ing in­suf­fi­ciently doc­tri­naire.

Ex­hibit A: The de­fen­es­tra­tion of Tom Cole.

Cole, a deeply con­ser­va­tive con­gress­man from deeply Repub­li­can Ok­la­homa, is not to be con­fused with a RINO: Repub­li­can in name only. But when the law­maker, who has been part of House GOP lead­er­ship, floated a per­fectly sen­si­ble no­tion — that Repub­li­cans should ac­cept Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s of­fer to ex­tend tax cuts for the 98 per­cent of Amer­i­cans who earn less than $250,000 a year — he was treated as if he had been caught read­ing Marx in the Repub­li­can cloak­room.

“I think he’s wrong, and I think most of the con­fer­ence thinks that he’s wrong,” de­clared rookie Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho. Cole, he said, is “a man who has voted for a lot of the in­creased spend­ing in Washington, D.C., and that’s the prob­lem. We have a lot of Repub­li­cans who are, you know, catch­ing their hair on fire right now, but they’re the ones who were here for 10 or 20 years caus­ing all the prob­lems that we’re now fac­ing.” Rep. Scott Gar­rett, R-N.J., called Cole’s po­si­tion “ab­surd.” House Speaker John Boehner went be­fore the cam­eras to de­liver Cole a rare pub­lic re­buke.

Cole, who en­joys a life­time rat­ing of 92 per­cent from the Amer­i­can Con­ser­va­tive Union as he en­ters his sixth term, isn’t wor­ried about a putsch. “I think I’m go­ing to be hard to sell as a dan­ger­ous lib­eral,” he told me with a chuckle. The out­rage, he said, “sur­prised me a lit­tle bit, be­cause I think the pol­i­tics of this are blind­ingly clear.”

Cole is cor­rect, for two rea­sons. On a prac­ti­cal level, his plan calls Obama’s bluff: Be­cause rais­ing taxes on the top 2 per­cent of earn­ers won’t bring in nearly enough tax rev­enue to fix the bud­get prob­lem, Obama would likely be forced to come up with some se­ri­ous en­ti­tle­ment-pro­gram cuts as part of a larger tax-and-spend­ing deal.

But Cole is right for a larger rea­son: The Repub­li­cans’ ne­go­ti­at­ing po­si­tion is morally in­de­fen­si­ble. They are hold­ing 98 per­cent of Amer­i­cans hostage by re­fus­ing to spare them a tax hike un­less the wealth­i­est 2 per­cent are in­cluded.

“Some peo­ple seem to think this is lever­age. I think that’s wrong,” Cole said. “You don’t con­sider peo­ple’s lives as lever­age. I live in a blue-col­lar neigh­bor­hood. I’ve got a re­tired master

Scot Le­high

Paul Krug­man

Dana Milbank

Mau­reen Dowd sergeant as my next door neigh­bor, po­lice of­fi­cer across the street. Th­ese are work­ing folks, they’re great peo­ple, and the idea that I would ever use them as lever­age is just wrong.”

In de­fy­ing the party purists, Cole is tak­ing a novel ap­proach: do­ing what his con­stituents want him to do. His staff re­ports that calls and emails to his Washington of­fice are run­ning 70 per­cent fa­vor­able, and calls to his south­cen­tral Ok­la­homa of­fices are 90 per­cent pos­i­tive.

No sur­prise: Me­dian in­come in his district is un­der $47,000, be­low the na­tional av­er­age of $52,000. Only 1.8 per­cent of house­holds there have in­come of $200,000 or more.

“They’re pro-busi­ness, they’re profree en­ter­prise,” Cole said of his con­stituents, who are farm and ranch work­ers, oil em­ploy­ees and the like. “But they’re go­ing to want to know that we’re not go­ing to raise taxes on them be­cause they make $43,000 a year, and $1,000 to $2,000 is a lot of money when you’re try­ing to raise a fam­ily.”

Cole, who worked as a po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant and as chief of staff at the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee be­fore coming to Congress, un­der­stands this re­al­ity bet­ter than many of his peers. In their ob­ses­sion with pro­tect­ing the wealth­i­est, Repub­li­cans of­ten work against their own con­stituents, be­cause red states tend to be poorer and more re­liant on government spend­ing.

Cole’s stand is a re­fresh­ing re­minder that be­ing con­ser­va­tive doesn’t mean you are un­rea­son­able. “Both sides, I think, need to be a lot more cleareyed,” he told me. “We’re go­ing to be liv­ing in this house to­gether for four years in all like­li­hood. Let’s get some things done that we can agree on.”

Thank­fully, Cole, who won re-elec­tion with 68 per­cent of the vote, isn’t in­tim­i­dated. Of his in­tra-party crit­ics, Cole asks: “Where’s your po­lit­i­cal courage? It’s pretty easy to vote ‘no’ around here. But we’ve got a di­vided government. The Amer­i­can peo­ple rat­i­fied that in this elec­tion. They’ve ba­si­cally told us to work to­gether. Here’s some­thing we both agree on that would be in their in­ter­est. Why don’t we do this?”

Gail Collins

John Young

Leonard Pitts

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