Repub­li­cans miss the point on ‘fis­cal cliff’ de­bate

The Covington News - - THE SECOND OPINION - SCOTT RAS­MUSSEN COLUM­NIST To find out more about Scott Ras­mussen, and read features by other Cre­ators Syn­di­cate writ­ers and car­toon­ists, visit cre­

Pres­i­dent Obama is win­ning the mes­sag­ing wars in the “fis­cal cliff” de­bate largely be­cause Repub­li­cans aren’t even in the game.

The GOP lead­er­ship in Washington keeps talk­ing as if the is­sue is deficit re­duc­tion, while the pres­i­dent is talk­ing about fair­ness.

Con­sider the num­bers. Sixty-one per­cent of vot­ers want to see a deal reached to avoid the big Jan. 1 tax hikes and across-the-board spend­ing cuts, and 68 per­cent want the deal to in­clude a com­bi­na­tion of both tax hikes and spend­ing cuts. By a 2-to-1 mar­gin, vot­ers would like to see more spend­ing cuts than tax hikes.

In­stead, the pres­i­dent’s pro­posal in­cludes $4 of tax hikes for ev­ery dol­lar of spend­ing cuts, and the spend­ing cuts are noth­ing more than a prom­ise to work some­thing out next year.

If the is­sue was really deficit re­duc­tion, the pres­i­dent’s pro­posal would leave the GOP in fine shape. But the pres­i­dent has the up­per hand po­lit­i­cally, and vot­ers see him as more will­ing to ne­go­ti­ate in good faith.

To un­der­stand why, start with the fact that 57 per­cent of vot­ers fa­vor rais­ing taxes on peo­ple who earn more than $250,000 a year. Repub­li­cans com­plain that this isn’t enough to make a dent in the deficit. Vot­ers un­der­stand that al­ready: Just 19 per­cent of vot­ers think it is pos­si­ble to bal­ance the fed­eral bud­get pri­mar­ily by rais­ing taxes on up­per-in­come Amer­i­cans.

Add to that the fact that vot­ers don’t ex­pect much sub­stance to emerge from the fis­cal cliff de­bate. If no deal is reached, taxes will go up on just about ev­ery­one, and there will be mod­est re­duc- tions in pro­posed spend­ing growth. If a deal is reached, six out of 10 ex­pect the deal to lead to higher mid­dle-class taxes, and only one out of three think spend­ing will go down. In other words, most peo­ple ex­pect pretty much the same re­sult whether or not a deal is reached.

In this en­vi­ron­ment, the pres­i­dent has pro­posed a pol­icy that ad­dresses a per­ceived level of un­fair­ness in the na­tion’s eco­nomic ar­range­ments. Whether it’s the best ap­proach doesn’t even mat­ter be­cause Repub­li­cans in Washington haven’t even tried to ad­dress the fair­ness is­sue. They keep ar­gu­ing about eco­nomic the­o­ries.

As a re­sult, 52 per­cent of vot­ers now pre­fer a can­di­date who prom­ises to raise taxes on the wealthy, while just 34 per­cent fa­vor a can­di­date who op­poses all tax hikes.

This high­lights a larger prob­lem faced by the Repub­li­can es­tab­lish­ment. While most vot­ers see Democrats as the party of big government, Repub­li­cans spend more time talk­ing about government. They com­plain that it’s too big, im­poses too many reg­u­la­tions and has un­sus­tain­able deficits.

Un­der Obama, Democrats talk less about government and more about how their poli­cies will af­fect life in Amer­ica. It’s the end re­sult that a prag­matic na­tion cares about, not the poli­cies.

For Repub­li­cans to suc­ceed, they need to rec­og­nize that most vot­ers don’t care about lim­ited government. But vot­ers care deeply about the type of so­ci­ety a lim­ited government makes pos­si­ble.

Ap­ply­ing that logic to the cur­rent de­bate over the fis­cal cliff, Repub­li­cans in Washington need to rec­og­nize that few vot­ers be­lieve this is a se­ri­ous de­bate about deficit re­duc­tion. The pres­i­dent has made it in­stead a de­bate about fair­ness, and they need to re­spond on that level.

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