Boehner’s “Plan B” doesn’t help the GOP

The Covington News - - THE SECOND OPINION -

Pres­i­dent Obama and con­gres­sional Democrats are still win­ning the mes­sag­ing bat­tle in the de­bate over the im­pend­ing “fis­cal cliff.”

Repub­li­can House Speaker John Boehner tried to change that with a fall­back po­si­tion ex­tend­ing tax cuts for ev­ery­one ex­cept those mak­ing more than a mil­lion dol­lars a year and let­ting the sched­uled spend­ing cuts go through. As I write this, the vote on Boehner’s “Plan B” has not been taken, but it doesn’t really mat­ter. Ei­ther way, Repub­li­cans will end up as losers in the court of pub­lic opin­ion.

That’s true even though rais­ing taxes on mil­lion­aires is sup­ported by 62 per­cent of vot­ers na­tion­wide. Boehner’s plan fails to ac­com­plish the speaker’s goal of show­ing that Repub­li­cans are will­ing to raise taxes on the rich, how­ever.

Why? Be­cause 59 per­cent of vot­ers also want to see taxes raised on those who earn more than $250,000 a year. In other words, the pres­i­dent can con­tinue his rhetoric un­changed, and peo­ple still will side with Obama over Boehner.

Most sig­nif­i­cantly, Boehner’s plan doesn’t gain Repub­li­cans any sup­port from un­af­fil­i­ated vot­ers. Sixty-three per­cent of th­ese vot­ers like the idea of rais­ing taxes for those who earn more than a mil­lion dol­lars a year. But the ex­act same num­ber (63 per­cent) want to raise taxes on those who earn be­tween $250,000 and a mil­lion dol­lars a year, too.

So by agree­ing to raise taxes on any­one, Boehner has an­tag­o­nized his base. By re­fus­ing to raise taxes on enough up­per-in­come Amer­i­cans, Boehner has an- tag­o­nized those in the mid­dle. Most Amer­i­cans con­sider $50,000 a mid­dle-class in­come, and the speaker is seen as try­ing to pro­tect those who make five times that amount.

Repub­li­cans are los­ing the de­bate be­cause the fis­cal cliff talks are about fair­ness rather than about taxes and deficit re­duc­tion. Most vot­ers (56 per­cent) be­lieve the U.S. econ­omy is un­fair to the mid­dle class. That’s the is­sue Obama is talk­ing about and Repub­li­cans are ig­nor­ing.

With Repub­li­cans avoid­ing the topic, the pres­i­dent de­fined the terms by say­ing those who earn more than $250,000 a year should pay more in taxes. It’s true that $250,000 a year doesn’t make some­one rich, but the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans de­fines such af­flu­ent ci­ti­zens as “up­per-in­come.”

Repub­li­cans have a choice to make. They can con­tinue op­pos­ing all tax hikes and at­tempt to make the case that it’s the fair thing to do. If they take that ap­proach, vot­ers in the mid­dle will tune out all other GOP talk­ing points about the need for spend­ing cuts and en­ti­tle­ment re­form. Or they can let taxes go up on the pres­i­dent’s terms and earn a chance to make the case for spend­ing cuts and en­ti­tle­ment re­form from a stronger po­si­tion.

Both ap­proaches are risky. That’s what hap­pens when you have a bad hand to play. But Boehner’s plan is worse than ei­ther op­tion be­cause it fur­ther erodes sup­port from the party’s base with­out gain­ing any ground in the mid­dle.

The only good news in all of this for the House Repub­li­cans is that the mes­sag­ing over the fis­cal cliff will not de­ter­mine how they fare on Elec­tion Day in 2014. At that point, the pres­i­dent’s pop­u­lar­ity and his party’s prospects will be judged by the state of the econ­omy.

To find out more about Scott Ras­mussen, and read features by other Cre­ators Syn­di­cate writ­ers and car­toon­ists, visit cre­ators.com.

SCOTT RAS­MUSSEN COLUM­NIST

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