Plan B would just shift blame if we fall off cliff

Austin American-Statesman - - BALANCED VIEWS - FROM THE LEFT Mon­day Tues­day Wed­nes­day Thurs­day Collins writes for The New York Times. Fri­day Satur­day Sun­day


to avert the in­fa­mous “fis­cal cliff” are like a su­per-high­stakes card game. But you have to imag­ine a game in which one player needs to go into a back room be­fore he makes his bet and get the ap­proval of a herd of ra­bid fer­rets.

That would be House Speaker John Boehner. Across from him at the card ta­ble sits the pres­i­dent. When Barack Obama won his big Se­nate race in 2004, his pals in the Illi­nois Leg­is­la­ture cel­e­brated with one last evening of poker, in which they took the sen­a­tor­elect for ev­ery dol­lar in his wal­let.

So per­haps it was not sur­pris­ing that in the ne­go­ti­a­tions, the pres­i­dent gave up quite a bit. You will re­mem­ber that Obama had cam­paigned on keep­ing the Bush-era tax cuts only for the Amer­i­can mid­dle class: fam­i­lies mak­ing $250,000 a year or less. OK, pos­si­bly not all truly mid­dle-class. Still, that was his line in the sand. There were long stretches this fall when tax-hike-forover-$250,000 seemed to be his only spe­cific plan for the next four years.

But, this week, he let Boehner move the line. Pushed it up to $400,000. Plus, Obama gave way on en­ti­tle­ments by agree­ing to change the cost-of-liv­ing ad­just­ments on So­cial Se­cu­rity. Then, all eyes turned to the House speaker. And the ra­bid fer­rets.

Pop quiz: Try to guess what John Boehner did next, based on some of his re­cent com­ments about the fis­cal-cliff ne­go­ti­a­tions:

“Ifs and ands and buts are like candy and nuts. If that were the case, ev­ery day would be Christ­mas.”

“Lis­ten, I was born with a glass half full.”

“The pres­i­dent con­tin­ues to blame any­one and ev­ery­one for the drought but him­self.”

OK, the last one was really not about the fis­cal-cliff ne­go­ti­a­tions. But you have to ad­mit it’s pretty good.

What Boehner did was to an­nounce that in­stead of sign­ing off on a deal, he was go­ing to go back to his mem­bers and ask them to vote for “Plan B.”

We had never met Plan B be­fore, but it turns out it’s a bill to raise taxes only on the Amer­i­cans who make $1 mil­lion or more a year.

“Un­for­tu­nately, to­day we will have to go to Plan B be­cause we want to make sure we do not go off the cliff,” said the House ma­jor­ity whip, Kevin McCarthy.

“Plan B” does not sound like some­thing that would pro­tect you from a cliff. It sounds like a less-than-de­sir­able op­tion for dental cov­er­age.

“I hope the pres­i­dent will get se­ri­ous

Scot Le­high

Paul Krug­man

Dana Milbank

Mau­reen Dowd soon,” said Boehner as he ex­plained the com­plex think­ing be­hind his bill dur­ing a 50-sec­ond press con­fer­ence.

If only Boehner had taken the deal, lib­eral Democrats could now be en­joy­ing a much-an­tic­i­pated op­por­tu­nity to com­plain that Obama sold them out. He had all the cards, and he gave away the $250,000 one! He dropped the ace of en­ti­tle­ments! But, once again, the Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives con­spired to make Obama look good.

At least the pres­i­dent made a se­ri­ous of­fer while Boehner put up ... Plan B. Which does vir­tu­ally noth­ing but con­tinue the Bush tax cuts for those mak­ing less than $1 mil­lion a year. Ev­ery­thing else goes over the cliff. Laid-off work­ers get­ting ex­tended un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits. Doc­tors treat­ing Medi­care pa­tients.

Hon­estly, it sounded like some­thing that Eric Can­tor typed up on his smart­phone on the way over from his of­fice.

“I know the Democrats are baf­fled at what we’re do­ing,” said Rep. Pete Ses­sions, R-Texas, dur­ing a rather sullen Rules Com­mit­tee meet­ing. “We’re try­ing to find a bill we can pass.” Sure, blame the fer­rets. At bot­tom, Plan B is just an at­tempt to shift the blame if the coun­try falls over the fis­cal cliff, de­stroy­ing what­ever faith Amer­i­cans had in their na­tional government and cre­at­ing ter­ror on Wall Street.

No mat­ter what hap­pens, let’s agree never again to call any­thing a “fis­cal cliff.”

Imag­ine what would have hap­pened if Congress and the pres­i­dent said they were talk­ing to “put the fis­cal horse back in the barn” by Jan. 1. We’d be at the same place right now, but would any­body be talk­ing about a po­ten­tial stock mar­ket col­lapse? I think not.

And if it weren’t for the psy­cho­log­i­cal im­pact of the cliff thing, would it be so bad if the Bush tax cuts just ex­pired? It would save around $4 tril­lion over the next 10 years. The deficit would plum­met, the fis­cal horse would be back in his stall, the gate to the pas­ture would be locked and there would be sev­eral ICBM mis­siles guard­ing the bud­getary barn­yard. Un­for­tu­nately, no­body in Washington seems to think this is a good plan.

If they can’t make a deal, on New Year’s Eve you can run around yelling: “The fis­cal horse is about to fall over a cliff!” This, peo­ple, is what is known as hav­ing it all.

Gail Collins

John Young

Leonard Pitts

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