By Erik Wasson - 12/23/12 11:00 AM EST
Conservative activists who helped doom Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) "Plan B" say Republicans must be prepared to go over the fiscal cliff to force President Obama to reach a deal that includes no tax hikes.
The activists say Boehner and other GOP leaders have been too scared about suffering politically if the nation goes over the cliff and $500 billion in tax hikes and spending cuts are triggered in January.
“I think Obama is very mindful of his legacy and is horrified of going over the cliff,” said Andy Roth of the Club for Growth. “Going over the cliff might be a signal that needs to be sent to the president, that he needs to play ball.”
He argued that President Clinton was forced to become a less liberal president after Speaker Newt Gingrich shut down the government in 1995.
“Clinton would not play ball with Newt until Newt shut the government down,” Roth said.
Several polls, however, suggest Republicans are in danger of being blamed by the public for a failure to prevent the tax hikes and spending cuts.
A Pew Research Center survey out last week found that 55 percent of those surveyed say Obama was making a serious effort to solve the fiscal cliff problem, but only 32 percent said Republican leaders were doing so.
A Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey found that 65 percent of those surveyed view the GOP negatively compared to 35 percent who view the Democratic Party negatively. That poll found 24 percent would blame the GOP if the fiscal cliff occurs, compared to 19 percent who would blame Obama.
It also is not conventional wisdom that the GOP benefitted from the government shutdown fight between Clinton and Gingrich. Some argue the shutdown backfired and led to Clinton's reelection in 1996.
Conservatives also argue Republicans will see their brand diminished by agreeing to anything that could be labeled a tax hike.
Boehner’s bill would have extended Bush-era tax rates on all annual income under $1 million, but conservatives said it raised taxes since rates on income more than $1 million would have gone up.
“I think it is certainly better to go over the fiscal cliff than to have the Republican party deny the American people to have one party that stands for lower taxes and another party that doesn’t,” Michael Needham of Heritage Action said last week.
Freedomworks initially backed Plan B as a negotiating tactic but reversed course last week and, like the Club for Growth, announced it would score votes on the legislation.
“The worst thing that Republicans can do is raise taxes,” Matt Kibbe of Freedomworks said Friday. “If Obama wants to raise taxes he can do that but Republicans shouldn’t give him cover.
“If Obama wants to go over the cliff, let him own that,” Kibbe said.
Roth argued Republicans should be willing to stretch the fight into 2013. Economists argue the ill effects of allowing tax hikes and spending cuts to go into effect will grow over time as more money is taken out of people’s pockets.
“They could take this into the New Year and extract a lot of very pro-growth entitlement reforms but I don’t think they are willing to go that far,” added Roth.
“The best thing we can do is extend the current rates for six to 10 months while we get pro-growth tax reform. The president is the only one who can propose that,” said Kibbe.
Dan Holler of Heritage Action said that Republicans now need to sell Medicare premium support and other bold ideas to get them into a fiscal cliff solution.
“When is the last time you heard Republicans make the case for Medicare premium support? When is the last time you heard Republicans talking about ending cronyism in the tax code? This is what Republicans need to focus on and commit to in the coming weeks and months. Until they do, no deal will be worth cutting,” he said Friday.
ForAmerica Chairman Brent Bozell on Friday released a plan for the GOP that involves it increasing its demands of Obama in fiscal cliff talks.
“Speaker Boehner, working in conjunction with Senate Minority Leader McConnell, should craft legislation that gets us on the road to fiscal sanity. This agenda must include four key items: cutting the corporate tax rate, abolishing the immoral "death tax," real spending cuts, and serious entitlement reforms,” he said in a statement.
“Bring a united GOP front and challenge the president to support this legislation. Offer him the 'millionaire tax' if he will. If he doesn't accept this, it proves he's not serious. At that point the GOP should walk away, declaring it's the president who now owns the impending disaster,” he said.