It’s just a few days out from a national election, the spotlight is more closely affixed on Washington, and everyone is on their best behavior. That’s the best reading of several comments made over the last 48 hours, designed to get the media to believe that we’ve entered a new era of bipartisanship, and more importantly gain the moral high ground for the battles that are sure to come.
First you have John Boehner’s ABC interview, where he continues to offer what amounts to Mitt Romney’s tax plan as an opening bid, but dress it up in enough gauzy rhetoric to get the media hopeful that it will lead to fruitful negotiations on a big deal. Why they care is beyond me. But in addition to that, Boehner told ABC that the election changes the situation on repealing Obamacare, which is now “the law of the land.” He had to retract that a little while later, through a spokesman. Boehner also said this:
The speaker also revealed that comprehensive, bipartisan immigration overhaul would be a top priority of his agenda during the 113th Congress.
“This issue has been around far too long,” he said. “A comprehensive approach is long overdue, and I’m confident that the president, myself, others can find the common ground to take care of this issue once and for all.”
Chuck Schumer jumped all over that one, saying in a statement that “This is a breakthrough to have the Speaker endorse the urgency of comprehensive immigration reform. Democrats in the Senate look forward to working with him to come up with a bipartisan solution.”
But Schumer had already returned the favor earlier in the day by, just days after the election, already signaled movement on the tax issue, no longer demanding a rate increase on the top 2% but suggesting that they could stay level, with revenue gained through deductions.
Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Senate Democrat, extended an olive branch to Republicans, suggesting Thursday that he could accept a tax plan that leaves the top tax rate at 35 percent, provided that loophole closings would hit the rich, not the middle class. He previously had said that he would accept nothing short of a return to the top tax rate of Bill Clinton’s presidency, 39.6 percent.
“If you kept them at 35, it’s still much harder to do,” Mr. Schumer said, “but obviously there is push and pull, and there are going to be compromises.”
You see how the two parties operate here. Boehner sounded all flowery, but he didn’t give up any actual policy in moving toward a deal. Schumer, who spent weeks saying that tax reform along these lines is a stupid idea, immediately concedes that point at the first hint of negotiation.
Keep in mind that CBO already showed virtually no economic impact from allowing the top two rates to return to Clinton-era levels. Yet, because of who funds political campaigns and nourishes politicians during and after their terms in office, the Bush-era tax rates have stood in for the entire fiscal slope, even though there are plenty of other parts to consider.
None of this conciliatory rhetoric matters all that much, I don’t believe. Congress always sounds ready to work together after an election. It doesn’t always proceed as planned. But the person with the loudest voice speaks today, when President Obama addresses the nation, specifically on the fiscal slope, this afternoon. That will have value for the ensuing debate.