At the Potsdam conference with Harry Truman and Josef Stalin, Winston Churchill learned that the voters of the nation he had led for five years through World War II had just voted to throw him out of office.
“It may well be a blessing in disguise,” said his wife Clementine.
“At the moment, it seems quite effectively disguised,” replied Churchill.
Republicans must feel that way today. For they have survived their own Dunkirk. They may have left their helmets, canteens and rifles behind, but they did finally get off the beach.
The party that blocked tax increases since George H.W. Bush agreed to raise Ronald Reagan’s top rate of 28 percent to 35 percent, thus repudiating his “no-new-taxes” pledge, just signed on to one of the largest tax increases in history.
Payroll taxes on working Americans will rise by a third, from 4.2 percent of wages and salaries to 6.2 percent. For couples earning $450,000, the tax rate rises from 15 to 20 percent on dividends and capital gains, and from 35 to 39.6 percent on ordinary income. The death tax will rise from 35 to 40 percent on estates over $5 million.
Obamacare will push those rates up further. And now we learn the bill was stuffed with tax breaks for windmills, NASCAR owners and Hollywood.
Why did Republicans go along?
Had they not, taxes would have risen for everyone. And Obama would have postured as the tax-cutting savior of the middle class by proposing to restore the Bush tax cuts for every couple earning less than $250,000.
What does this bill do to spur growth and create jobs? Nothing.
Even Lord Keynes would have wondered what these Americans were doing raising taxes on a recovering economy.
The GOP defense: We took this rotten deal to prevent a worse one.
And what, if any, is the “blessing in disguise”?
Obama has no more leverage. The Bush tax cuts for the 98 percent are now permanent. To block further tax hikes, all the House need do, from now to 2017, is stand united and just say no.
Obama is thus almost certainly staring at four more trillion-dollar deficits to match the last four, and he has no leverage to force Republicans to provide him with new revenue.
The president threatens that before he signs on to new spending cuts, Republicans will have to “make the rich pay their fair share.”
The GOP response should be: We will work with you on spending cuts, but there will be no more tax increases. If higher taxes are a condition you impose for spending cuts, there will be no spending cuts.
But, Mr. President, you will be in the driver’s seat when we go over the cliff into bankruptcy. You will be your party’s Herbert Hoover.
John Boehner and the Republicans got their clocks cleaned in these negotiations because they believed the president was dealing in good faith.
But the ideology and the interests of the Democratic Party dictate not only preserving federal programs, but expanding the numbers of beneficiaries, already near 100 million.
For the larger the number of beneficiaries, the larger the bloc of voters for the party of government and the greater the opposition to any who would dare to cut government.
The question for Republicans is what they do now, besides say no to new taxes.
Most Democrats are not going to agree to freeze or cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare, food stamps, federal aid to education, Head Start, Pell Grants, housing subsidies, welfare, earned income tax credits or unemployment checks. These are the party’s pride and joy, the reason the Democratic Party exists.
As we have seen since 2009, Democrats will readily accept trillion-dollar deficits rather than do even minor surgery on their cherished programs.
As for the Republicans, is it wise to propose cuts in Social Security and Medicare, upon which Republican seniors depend, when they know for certain Democrats will reject those cuts and take credit for doing so?
Will Republicans recommend cuts in defense and foreign aid and a rollback of the U.S. military presence in Europe, the Far East and Persian Gulf? Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham already want to know why we are not intervening in Syria. Soon, some Republicans will be beating the drums for strikes on Iran.
Republicans Chris Christie and Peter King already want to know why Congress has not forked over $60 billion to repair the damage done to New Jersey and New York by Hurricane Sandy.
With the GOP splintering, with Democrats running the Senate and White House, conservatives must realize: They cannot make policy.
Let the Democrats take the lead, drive the car, propose the tax hikes, refuse to make the spending cuts and answer for where we are in 2016, because, right now, it looks as though we are headed for an even bigger cliff.
For the next two years, the best offense may be a good defense.