Conservatives are worried that the negotiations that will begin this week to avoid the “fiscal cliff” will end in disaster. Tax increases that will weaken the economy could be combined with spending cuts that never materialize in an agreement that will leave many Republicans — especially those who have signed the “no net new taxes” pledge promoted by Americans for Tax Reform — vulnerable to public outrage, and indeed to primary challenges in the midterm elections.
The way to avoid that outcome may be for conservatives to insist on the transparency and openness that Barack Obama has spent much of his career promoting but has almost never delivered in practice. The White House has asserted false claims of executive privilege to avoid questions on the Justice Department’s Fast and Furious gun-running scandal. The Washington Post reported last year that a large number of requests for public records elicited no material at all from the administration. The same Barack Obama who as a 2008 candidate promised that health-care negotiations would be shown on C-SPAN instead cobbled together the abomination of Obamacare behind closed doors.
Many old Washington hands recall that Republicans agreed on tax-increase-for-spending-cuts deals in 1982 under Ronald Reagan and in 1990 under George H. W. Bush. These deals politically damaged the party in the short run, and they also proved to be bad policy. The 1982 budget deal, which promised seven dollars in spending cuts for every three dollars in tax increases, was never honored. Congress agreed to less than 27 cents in spending cuts for every dollar of tax increases, and President Reagan came to bitterly regret his decision to approve the deal. Ed Meese, Reagan’s senior counselor at the time and later his attorney general, recalls that the 1982 deal “was the worst domestic-policy mistake of the Reagan administration.”