Obama's Tax-Hiking 'Mandate,' Plus Stubborn House GOP 'Out of Step With Most Americans' on Issue

On the front of Sunday's New York Times, reporters Jackie Calmes and Jonathan Weisman suggested President Obama has a "mandate" for tax hikes in the ongoing tactical battle in Congress over the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts in "Soured History Hampers Talks Between Obama and Boehner."

Last year, Mr. Boehner had the edge as Mr. Obama faced a difficult re-election campaign and needed Republicans’ support to increase the nation’s borrowing limit, lest the government default. Now, after a decisive re-election victory and Democratic gains in Congress, Mr. Obama has the stronger hand. He also made higher taxes for the wealthy a central campaign issue, suggesting a mandate borne out in public polls. And he benefits from a hard deadline, Dec. 31, after which all of the Bush-era tax cuts expire if action is not taken to extend them. Polls show that voters would hold Republicans responsible if no deal is reached in time.

The Times has been generally eager to declare Democratic "mandates," but not Republican ones.

Meanwhile, John Harwood's column Monday on the debt, "Talks Highlight A Structural Divide," explained the Republican stubbornness on raising taxes in negative terms.

To Democrats, Republican resistance to raising tax rates on affluent Americans seems not only stubborn, but also befuddling and self-defeating.

Public opinion strongly favors it. President Obama just won re-election campaigning more strongly on the tax issue than on any other. Federal revenue as a share of the economy is near a 60-year low. Washington faces a $1 trillion annual deficit.

Yet even as some party leaders and intellectuals urge them to concede the point, most rank-and-file House Republicans refuse. That is why Speaker John A. Boehner has moved so gingerly, finally offering late last week to raise rates only on incomes of $1 million or more, despite calls from Senate Republicans for a deeper concession.


As a result, the everyday interactions Republicans have with their constituents and colleagues reinforce a lower-tax worldview diametrically opposed to that of their Democratic counterparts –  and out of step with most Americans. The biggest threat to their careers is primary challenges from opponents more conservative than they are.

“It’s who they are,” said Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma. “It’s the air they breathe. It’s what the Republican electorate produces.”


The 2012 Republican presidential primaries foreshadowed the difficulty Mr. Boehner now faces. In one debate, every candidate including Mr. Romney rejected the notion of a budget deal that would include tax increases even if accompanied by spending cuts 10 times as large.

“That was a danger sign,” said Peter Wehner, a deputy to former President George W. Bush’s top political strategist, Karl Rove.

Harwood concluded with a plug for responsible Republicanism, as opposed to those conservative talk radio hosts and bloggers.

“Their position as the party of no new taxes is unsustainable,” said Bernadette Budde, who retired this month as a strategist for the Business Industry Political Action Committee. “If you’re not going to listen to the business community about economic problems, who are you going to listen to? Some talk-radio host? Some blogger? Some political operative?”