Inquirer Editorial: Moderates key to budget deal

Speaker John Boehner talking to reporters about fiscal-cliff negotiations in the Capitol last week. J. Scott Applewhite
Speaker John Boehner talking to reporters about fiscal-cliff negotiations in the Capitol last week. J. Scott Applewhite (/ Associated Press)
Posted: December 28, 2012

With the "fiscal cliff" only four days away, extremist tea-party Republicans, especially in the House, are still blocking any reasonably balanced solution. They have absolutely refused to approve a deal involving any tax increase, even on millionaires.

Given their refusal to compromise for the good of the nation, retiring Republican Rep. Steve LaTourette of Ohio had some useful advice for his leader, Speaker John Boehner.

In an interview on National Public Radio, LaTourette said the speaker should stop stop giving the tea-party faction of his caucus veto power on the issue.

(LaTourette calls them "chuckleheads," for their fanciful notion that they will get a more purely "Republican" deal if they keep saying no, no, no, even though Democrats control the Senate and presidency.)

Many Republican House members will support some tax increase, LaTourette said, if accompanied by more serious spending cuts. He thinks many Democrats could be persuaded to bless that type of deal, too.

"The way these things were always done in the past," LaTourette said, "is you get 120 from one side and 120 from the other side."

In other words, the way forward requires Speaker Boehner to realize he is the leader of the entire House, not just the Republican members.

Right now, if LaTourette is correct, some 50 Republicans, barely more than 10 percent of the House, are blocking what a majority of members would likely approve. That veto by a tiny minority is not the way a representative democracy is supposed to work.

Suburban Philadelphia members of Congress could play a key role in breaking the impasse. Coming from moderate, swing districts, they are less doctrinaire than their tea-party compatriots.

Reps. Michael Fiztpatrick (R., Pa.) and Frank LoBiondo (R., N.J.), for example, recently broke party ranks on a key fiscal-cliff proposal. They voted against a move to cancel the looming defense cuts by doubling the cuts in social programs. (That measure passed the House but will go nowhere in the Senate.)

It may be easier for Boehner to follow LaTourette's advice after Jan. 3. That's when the new Congress convenes and Boehner faces reelection as speaker. Once reelected, he would have a stronger hand for making a deal across party lines - something a large majority of the public supports. Some tea-party House members would be gone, having been defeated by more moderate candidates.

At that point, we would be a few days past the "cliff," but a quickly passed package of tax changes and spending cuts could be made retroactive.

Any deal would still require Senate approval. And Senate Republicans could then become the point of obstruction, even though they are in the minority. The Senate has arcane procedural rules that make it difficult for a simple majority to take timely action.

That means a few moderate Republican senators may have to dare to depart from their party's dictates. Doing so carries some political risk, but it's the kind of brave leadership the country needs to avoid economic calamity.

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