Yuval Levin | The Left and the Cliff

For Republicans, the question presented by the fiscal-cliff deal was fairly straightforward: Is the bill better or worse than the plausible alternatives? The answer was not self-evident, and it depended in part on one’s trust in the Republican congressional leadership. The peculiar structure of this particular showdown, with tax rates expiring and higher ones automatically taking effect, meant that taking no action at this point would have sent taxes far higher for far more people than this deal would. And what we know about congressional Republicans suggests to me that the ensuing public, press, and voter pressure would have led them to accept a far worse outcome than the bill congress passed. Those who think that opposing any deal would have somehow created the conditions for Republicans to insist on reinstating all the Bush tax rates after they expired have a far higher opinion of the backbone of Republican leaders than I do. But that’s a prudential debate about how, as the minority party in Washington focused on keeping taxes and spending down, to minimize the harm of a uniquely bad set of circumstances. Maybe Republicans did that, maybe they could have done a little better, but they probably couldn’t have done much better.


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