Negotiating the Negotiations: A “Fiscal Cliff” Strategy for the GOP

Many people have analyzed Mitt Romney’s election loss and proposed solutions to avoid a repeat in 2016. If I could summarize my primary criticisms in three brief bullet points, they would be:

  • A failure to look stuff up

  • An apparent inability to formulate and articulate a counterargument

  • An apparent inability to proffer to one’s opponent a logical trap for which there is no effective counterargument.

While the Romney campaign is now in the rearview mirror, these same points remain salient for a more immediate concern: the upcoming “fiscal cliff” negotiation between the GOP House, President Obama, and the Democratic Senate.

Step One: Look stuff up. And it should not take much looking (it took me perhaps five minutes on the Internet) to dredge up the sorry record of TEFRA, the 1982 budget deal, in which President Reagan agreed to $1 in tax increases in exchange for every $3 in spending cuts. As we all know, the tax increases were enacted immediately, but the promised spending cuts never happened. Nor is it particularly hard to find a reference to the 1990 budget deal, in which a second GOP president was snookered into agreeing to immediate tax increases in exchange for spending cuts that never materialized.

Which brings us to the third bullet point and the tactic that I would like to see the House and Senate Republicans (but especially the House, where Republicans have the majority) use in the fiscal cliff negotiations.

To wit: When the Democrats demand a tax-rate increase in exchange for spending cuts, Republicans should smile and remind the Democrats (and the American public –we really need to insist that the negotiations be videotaped and/or broadcast live) of the two past instances of unrealized spending cuts and say the following: “But of course, President Obama, Majority Leader Reid, Minority Leader Pelosi, we Republicans would be delighted to discuss (not implement, only discuss) raising tax rates on “the wealthy” – as soon as we’ve made every penny of the spending cuts Democrats promised in 1982 and 1990. Adjusted for inflation, of course.”

I invite other minds, wiser than mine, to weigh in, but for Democrats, I really see no logical way out of this. Of course, Obama, Reid and Pelosi will balk, but the Republicans’ (my choice would be McConnell, for what it’s worth) rejoinder is simple: “Are you saying, Mr. President, that Democrats have no intention of keeping the promises they already made?” Is the word of Democrats no good? If Democrats will not keep the two spending-cut promises they already made, why should the Republicans, let alone the American people, trust them a third time?

And to the American people: Given the Democrats’ past failure, twice, to keep their word on spending cuts, are Republicans not justified in demanding to see all of the spending cuts made first, before we even talk about raising tax rates?

The answer, of course, is yes, and any American who is not a liberal Democrat should be able to see it.

And I do mean, see. And hear. Republicans really must demand that the negotiations be broadcast live or at least be videotaped. Do not allow Obama’s media sycophants to spoon-feed their interpretation to the public. Regardless of whether the GOP negotiators adopt my idea, insist that the American people be allowed to see, hear, and decide for themselves.