The last few days have seen an interesting series of developments in the fallout from the 2012 fiscal cliff negotiations, including conservative commentary from Salem Radio hosts on Philadelphia's WNTP as well as the revelation that pro-Obama super-PAC Priorities USA launched a direct mail advertising campaign against congressman and senators that “stand with millionaires and billionaires” – planned either as budget negotiations were ongoing or at best remained unresolved.
But why kill Hamlet in the first act – come Watson, come, the game is afoot.
The world of WNTP
Broadcasting locally on 990 AM WNTP this Monday, The Washington Examiner’s Byron York praised Stephen Moore’s piece in The Wall Street Journal regarding his recent interview with GOP House Speaker John Boehner while speaking with former Reagan Education Secretary Bill Bennett.
“Great piece…Steve sat down for an hour with Boehner. You know, I think the lead was the lead that he chose – that Boehner said that sitting there talking with Obama, Obama said ‘we don’t have a spending problem.’ It’s hard to point to something that’s more illustrative of the basic divide that is the problem here in all of these fiscal cliff/debt ceilings/budget negotiations.” York stated.
“…Look, when you’ve wanted to do something your entire life – and for Obama in terms of policy concerns…he wants to expand the government. He wants to spend more money. He wants to redistribute income. And, when you’ve sort of directed your whole professional life toward that and then you achieve this great office – you’re finally in a position to do it – and circumstances unfortunately show that you don’t have the money to do this you just go ahead anyway. And I really think that’s what Democrats are doing.” York speculated.
“They have built – and now they have expanded with ObamaCare – the entitlement state. And it’s obvious that they don’t have the money to run it. And they certainly cannot raise enough money to run it simply by taxing the so-called rich – whether you put the border at $500, $400 thousand, $250 thousand you can’t do it. You can’t raise enough money. We’ve already seen that.” he added.
York also insisted the president had a habitual problem of failing to put the economy at the top of his agenda – the subject of one of his recent columns.
“…for the president the economy never comes first. Creating jobs, fostering growth – and as a related issue keeping federal spending under control – never comes first. In the first term it was ObamaCare obviously that came first. He wanted to do it and you know damn the torpedoes. And he did.” York observed.
“And now – it’s interestingly enough – you look at his David Gregory interview last week and he’s asked well what are your priorities for your second term? And the first thing he lists is immigration reform. And then he says ‘the second thing we’ve got to do is stabilize the economy and make sure it’s growing.’ And I just thought that was particularly illustrative of his priorities because here is another big, big sort of society changing thing that he wants to enact – immigration reform – and the economy comes second. And by the way, unemployment ticked up to 7.8% from 7.7 in December.” York noted.
“And by the way, November’s 7.7 was revised upward to 7.8. The so-called U6 measure, which is not only people who are unemployed but people who want jobs but are discouraged and have quit looking, and people who are underemployed involuntarily – they’re working part-time, they want to work full time – that number is 14.4%. It is huge…”
Mitch McConnell jumps into the game
Also airing on WNTP last Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell joined Hugh Hewitt to push for limiting federal spending in the aftermath of the passage of HR 8. The legislation was the product of a deal to postpone $1.2 trillion in automatic budget cuts scheduled to occur through 2021. This includes what would now be roughly $42 billion in reductions to the defense department in 2013 according to reporting from Jeremy Herb of The Hill. The agreement also extends Bush era tax rates for individuals (and small businesses) earning $400,000 a year (and $450,000 for couples) while allowing a 2% rise in payroll taxes.
“Now we’re ready to talk about spending. The tax issue is over. It’s behind us. He campaigned on it. He wanted to raise taxes on rich people. We knew he was going to get that anyway because the law sunsetted. It ended two days ago. But now, the tax issue is over, and we move on to engage on the biggest problem confronting the future, and that’s the overspending.” McConnell argued.
“Social Security has been in the red for the last two years. It’s spent more than it took in. The trustees of Medicare and Social Security, appointed by Barack Obama, say Medicare’s got about ten years to go before it tanks. So in order to save those programs, we have to act, and act soon.” the GOP Minority Leader later pressed.
Hewitt then queried, “When the President says he will not negotiate about this, he is of course negotiating in the press. Is the presidency by press conference productive in this situation?”
“No, it’s not helpful. I mean, the other day, for example, he had a campaign rally type thing right in the middle of the discussions I was having with the vice president – all it did was make it harder to get Republican votes.” McConnell criticized.
“Fortunately in the Senate, we got virtually all the Republican votes anyway. But it’s not helpful. I wish they could turn off the campaign. He won. Congratulations. Great victory for you, Mr. President, you’re not running again. Let’s try governing for awhile.”
Paul Ryan on taxes and spending
Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan also appeared with Hugh Hewitt on WNTP this Wednesday to defend his vote in the House in favor of the Senate’s fiscal cliff deal, a decision which has been criticized by a number of conservatives in recent days.
“We had been hit with a $4.4 trillion tax increase yesterday, and I had the opportunity to knock it down by $3.8 trillion. That means 98% of the country [doesn’t] get hit by a tax increase. I wanted 100% of the country not to get hit by a tax increase. Problem is current law spoke otherwise. President Obama held the card on that…” Ryan maintained.
He also insisted the 89-8 Senate vote approving HR 8 made it unlikely for a compromise more favorable to the GOP to emerge, backing the Republican controlled House into a corner.
“…I did not see a better deal comin’ given that the Senate was 89 to 8 in favor of this deal. It was obvious – I’ve been legislating here for awhile – that we were not going to get a better deal…” Ryan said.
“…I think if we failed to pass this it would have been a disaster. If you think something should pass then you should vote for it. I know a lot of people in Congress were saying I hope somebody else vote’s for it so I don’t have to, well I just don’t take things like that.” he added.
While lamenting the failure of HR 8 to reduce government expenditures, Ryan stated, “I do not want to hold taxpayers hostage for the fact that this president will not help us cut spending. I want to prevent taxpayers from having a tax increase. Now that this excuse is gone it helps us to focus solely on spending. His excuse of having a higher tax rate on wealthy people is gone. He got it.”
Later he said, “Look using the Democrats own formula of three to one, their own ‘balanced plan,’ meant for every dollar of tax increases you get three dollars of spending cuts. Well President Obama just got about $600 billion in [tax revenue] so we ought to be getting $1.8 trillion in spending cuts from him right now. Well, we’ll see. We need to talk about that. We need to see where are those spending cuts. We’ve offered ours.”
“Our budgets offered $4 – 6 billion of spending cuts. So we can show you plenty of ways from our perspective on how to achieve it. The president seems to be against all of them but now he cannot hide behind the tax increase for the rich. He’s got to put up – using his own rhetoric, using their own formula – where are the spending cuts that he says are necessary to ‘have a balanced plan’.” Ryan added.
Hugh Hewitt with Townhall’s Guy Benson in 2012
Most of the explanations for the House’s decision to delay a vote until after the New Year – when existing income tax rates expired – emphasized the desire of GOP congressman like Paul Ryan to frame their votes as tax “cuts” rather than increases to avoid primary challenges. However, Hugh Hewitt offered different reservations last month. In addition to his concerns about defense funding, Hewitt contended Democrats and the media would hammer home a message that used the Republicans’ decision to raise taxes against them.
And Hugh Hewitt’s position proved prescient during a somewhat contentious interview with Townhall Political Editor Guy Benson on December 19th, with the two debating the merits of House Speaker John Boehner’s ill-fated effort to pass legislation to allow Bush-era tax rates to expire for income earners making over $1,000,000.
Benson supported the legislation, but the nationally syndicated radio host smelled a trap.
“Look, there are no good options for Republicans at this point. There’s nothing good that’s going to come out of this. I think that Plan B is a deeply flawed plan but I also worry, severely, that any sort of Obama blessed deal would actually be worse. So, I actually think there’s a case to be made for Plan B as a last ditch effort to just leave town and say alright Democrats, your turn.” Benson explained.
When Hewitt responded this would require the GOP to break their pledge to raise taxes Benson countered that, “[Americans for Tax Reform]…Grover Norquist’s group came out today and said that no, Plan B does not represent a violation of the pledge.”
Though emphasizing the ATF head was a friend, Hewitt insisted that was not Norquist’s call to make.
“…I hate the fact that the Left-wing media has defined Grover as the arbiter of a pledge that was given to every American. If you raise the highest marginal rate you have raised taxes.” Hewitt began.
“And Grover can stand in the corner all day long…and can say no you didn’t. And every single ad and every single message will point out that everybody’s tax rates went up if the Republicans vote for Plan B. I think that’s just part of the trap Guy.”
“Wait, so you think Republicans would vote for Plan B, it wouldn’t go through, all the tax rates would go up, and then what?” Guy replied.
“And then we’re going to go over the cliff. So they will have broken their pledge, they will have gone over the cliff, they will have gotten nothing. And they will have gotten nothing, and they will have voted to cut defense by $100 billion.”
In short, Hewitt’s concerns weren’t focused on primary challenges. His reservations stemmed from a belief that the media would fixate on the Republican Party’s decision to break its pledge and their political adversaries would paint the GOP as untrustworthy, possibly conflating the expiration of the Bush tax rates for all Americans with the limited tax rate increases contained in Plan B.
DC Media reaction to the deal
Even with the Republican House waiting until after the formal expiration of Bush tax rates, it’s worth noting the GOP won few accolades for their concessions and the beltway press behaved as Hewitt predicted regarding tax rates.
Reacting to the “resolution” of the fiscal cliff, Politico posted GOP anti-tax policy goes over the cliff, with Alexander Burns writing, “Read their lips: Republicans just voted for higher taxes.”
In Conservatives look to next battle James Hohmann and Ginger Gibson penned, “…this is the first time that Republicans have voted for some tax hikes in nearly two decades…”
John Bresnahan, Carrie Budoff Brown, Manu Raju, and Jake Sherman also remarked in The fiscal cliff deal that almost wasn’t, “The White House and Congress knew of the self-imposed deadline for more than 17 months and they still blew past it, as a president off a strong reelection victory tested – and ultimately broke – the Republican Party’s fidelity to its tax-cuts-only governing philosophy…”
Direct Mail Campaign from Priorities USA
The actions of Priorities USA on the eve of the fiscal cliff deal also bore out Hewitt’s suspicions about the Left's political messaging apparatus.
I can report that at some point during the 2012 fiscal cliff negotiations the pro-Obama super PAC made the decision to launch a direct mail campaign targeting members of Congress because one of the aforementioned leaflets arrived at my home in Philadelphia shortly after New Year’s Day.
It’s unlikely citizens of the City of Brotherly Love were the only recipients of this advertising, and the mailing being sent to myself was presumably a somewhat unfortunate targeting error.
Nevertheless, the leaflet urges recipients to “Tell your member of Congress to stand with the President and the middle class, NOT millionaires and billionaires” and provides the number for the Capitol Hill switchboard.
As a side note, I am simply reproducing the grammatical error as it appears throughout the advertisement; typically “president” like “governor” or “senator” is only capitalized when it comes immediately before the name of the president of a country.
It also provides four brief talking points about the White House’s fiscal cliff plan, one of which reads “Holds the line on taxes for middle-class families.” Admittedly, this is somewhat comical since I imagine it’s more politically savvy to advertise holding the line against taxes for middle-class families rather than on them.
Still, I know what they meant to say so I won’t pick that to death – even if it could have been phrased more adeptly.
Normally these types of direct mail campaign literature are reserved for election seasons or major state/local referendums, and because it originated from a super-PAC the timing does not necessarily indicate either the president or Joe Biden was aware of this ad campaign during their dealings with the GOP. Indeed, these organizations are legally barred from coordinating with the politicians they support.
Yet, had congressional Republicans caught wind of Priorities USA’s plan last month it could well have convinced Boehner’s leadership team that they were not being negotiated with in good faith.
Whether the move will raise the ire of conservatives remains to be seen.
However, it does have the potential to jeopardize the willingness of Congress to forge bipartisan compromise on both budget issues as well as topics like immigration reform if representatives come to believe their negotiating partners are preparing to launch ad campaigns against them even while closed door talks are ongoing on Capitol Hill.
Click subscribe above to receive an email when additional articles are posted by this examiner of conservative talk radio
Follow John Goodman on Twitter @ Literalville here
Podcasts and recaps of Bill Bennett’s Morning in America are available here
Podcasts and recaps of the Hugh Hewitt Show are available here