When Sen. Bob Corker, a prominent Republican lawmaker, said yesterday that he's prepared to throw in the towel in the fight over taxes, it was widely seen as a step away from the current GOP strategy. A closer look, however, reveals a far more troubling gambit.
Just hours before the White House meeting, Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, said on "Fox News Sunday" that a small but growing group of Republicans had begun considering acquiescing on tax rates so that the negotiations could shift to entitlement programs.
Mr. Corker, a member of the Banking Committee who had presented a deficit-reduction plan of his own, said that if Republicans gave in to the president's chief demand, then "all of a sudden the shift goes back to entitlements, and maybe it puts us in a place where we actually can do something that really saves the nation."
Putting aside the dubious notion that the United State is doomed without entitlement cuts, Corker seems to endorse the growing Republican realization that President Obama is very likely to win the tax fight. GOP leaders hoped its extortion tack -- accept tax breaks for the wealthy or everyone's taxes go up -- would force the White House's hand, but the plan is clearly failing.
So, as a practical matter, with Republicans starting to fold on taxes, is the broader standoff nearing an end? Not really -- what many of the reports have omitted is what else Corker said in the same interview.
Indeed, for all the attention the tax fight is getting, the Tennessean's comments on the debt ceiling were far more provocative, and infinitely more alarming.
From the transcript:
"The shift in focus and entitlements is where we need to go.... Republicans know that they have the debt ceiling that's coming up right around the corner, and, the leverage is going to shift, as soon as we get beyond this issue. The leverage is going to shift to our side, where hopefully we'll do the same thing we did last time and that is if the president wants to raise the debt limit by $2 trillion, we get $2 trillion in spending reduction. [...]
"[T]he only way the debt ceiling, I think, is given up is if the president comes to the table, talks with Speaker Boehner about real entitlement reform. Without that, there's no way in my opinion the debt ceiling is going to be going up. So then you go into January and February, with the negotiation about spending reductions which is where we want to go."
Corker certainly wouldn't say so explicitly, but what he's describing is a plan predicated on trading one hostage for another. For months, the Republican offered the White House a specific threat: "Give us what we want or we'll raise middle-class taxes." It's increasingly unlikely that GOP lawmakers will follow through on this threat.
Now, however, there's a new extortion line to replace the old one: "Fine, forget taxes. Give us what we want or we'll hurt the country and crash the economy on purpose."
This is not a step in a more constructive direction.