"Ornery Conservatives" Are Irrelevant To The Fiscal Cliff Debate

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Dec. 20 2012 4:58 PM

"Ornery Conservatives" Are Irrelevant To The Fiscal Cliff Debate

The difficult time John Boehner's having rounding up the votes for his "Plan B" budget plan highlights the partel cartel dynamics that are at play in the negotiations. Boehner often likes to try to govern with an "absolute majority" consisting of 218 Republican yes votes for leadership initiatives. At the same time, he often likes to engage in message votes to position the GOP vis-a-vis the White House. What we're seeing today is that it's a difficult task. In order to write a bill that the right wing of his caucus will vote for he's had to write a totally unreasonable bill that does nothing for messaging and may not garner the votes he needs anyway.

If the small tax increase in Plan B fails, it will be clear that a big tax increase would, too. If the small tax increase succeeds, there’s no reason to think that a larger one would—ornery conservatives who’ve just violated first principles by voting to increase taxes may be harder, not easier, to corral for an even larger tax increase.
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The issue is that if there's a deal, lots of Democrats will vote for it. There are 201 Democrats in the House and 234 Republicans. If John Boehner reaches a deal with Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi he'll only have to pony up 120 or so votes for it not 218. The rest of the votes will come from Democrats. That's how TARP was done, that's how the 2011 appropriations bills were done, and it's how the debt ceiling deal was done. It's simply not reasonable to expect to forge a compromise that both a mainstream Democrat like Obama and the very most conservative members of the House Republican caucus will vote for. But every time a deal gets made we have to go through this charade. Boehner won't ditch the right-wing of the Republican Party which makes it impossible to make a deal until . . . a deal gets made.

Which isn't to say a deal will get made. Sometimes the deal gets made and sometimes it doesn't. But the math on the Plan B vote doesn't tell us anything one way or another. Unfortunately, I can't read Boehner's mind. But conservatives say they want to cut entitlement spending and the way to cut entitlement spending is to give Obama some political cover in terms of higher tax rates and some stimulus. Nancy Pelosi's non-denunciation of reindexing Social Security earlier this week is a huge tell that Democrats are ready to pony up the votes.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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