Whatever Happened to the Certainty Fairy?

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Dec. 5 2012 10:36 AM

Whatever Happened to the Certainty Fairy?

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WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 05: U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) arrives at a news conference after a House Republican conference meeting December 5, 2012 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The House Republican leadership held a news conference to discuss its negotiations with the White House on the fiscal cliff issue. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

House Republicans, who are getting ready to wrap up votes for the week, held a largely newsless presser this morning to update the people of America on debt talks. John Boehner glided past four questions about his leverage -- and how little of it he still has -- but he did grapple with the poll numbers. How could he stand firm when polls revealed a huge majority for top rate tax hikes?

"The revenues we've put on the table come from -- guess who? The rich!" America's least popular taxpayers would pay more, and this would be done "not by raising rates," but by closing loopholes.

This sounded strange. On the one hand, you could tell people hitting that $250,001 income level that the only new tax they're going to pay is a slightly higher rate on income at and above that level. On the other, you tell them that their rate will remain in limbo, but they will be hit, at some point, by the elimination of loopholes. Which loopholes? We'll find out later!

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One year ago, Boehner was arguing that the rates themselves needed to be extended because you didn't want people to keep guessing about how much they'd pay. "The idea that tax policy can be done two months at a time is the kind of activity that we see here in Washington that has really put our economy off its tracks," he said. He's not quite contradicting himself now, but he is opting for some murky period of tax debate over a clean tax increase that's been on the books, ready to kick in, for two years.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.