07 July 2011 ~ 9 Comments

Bachmann vs. Boehner: Till debt do us part

This is an op-ed I co-wrote with Paul Goldman and Mark Rozell for Politico this morning.

“Till debt do us part” is the common-law marriage vow between House Speaker John Boehner and Tea Party Caucus leader Rep. Michele Bachmann. The debt ceiling standoff will test this GOP union as well as the Democratic Party’s commitment to improving education and job opportunities for all Americans.

But consider the powerful impact of Bachmann’s sudden rise. The mother of five has given former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin the twitters while daring tea party rival Texas Gov. Rick Perry to an Iowa showdown. She is now virtually tied with Mitt Romney in the Iowa polls. Presidential politics’ premier anti-Obamacon, the Minnesotan may become the most powerful conservative woman in GOP history.

Boehner understands the new equation: The more Bachmann gains, the less negotiating room he has.

The debt ceiling issue is the first defining GOP presidential event because Bachmann is the only serious candidate with a vote in Congress. Tea party backers want to see her self-proclaimed “titanium spine.” If she plays it right, she can win huge. If not, she can become yet another fallen idol.

The Canadian rock group Bachman-Turner Overdrive scored big with “Takin’ Care of Business” back in the ’70s. Now Bachmann realizes that the wrong vote puts her out of business as a presidential aspirant.

President Barack Obama understands that default would inflict incalculable damage to the United States and add to the advantage of the nation’s foreign competitors. He is right to want to repeal unfair Bushonomics.

But let’s be honest: When Obama took office, the Democrats reneged on 2004 and 2008 platform promises to repeal Bushonomics — claiming the economic recovery was too fragile. Yet Democratic leaders attack Republicans as defending Bush’s “tax cuts for the rich” though the recovery is now even shakier.

No wonder Americans are cynical. Obama knows avoiding the economic damage from a default is of greater urgency than a fairness fix.

Bachmann’s tea party posse will not accept any agreement deemed dictated by the president. And GOP legislators, vulnerable to a primary challenge from the right, are understandably nervous about appearing to compromise with Obama.

Yet Boehner realizes he becomes persona non grata in business circles should the GOP get blamed for default. House Democrats are threatening to withhold votes unless he backs new tax revenue — which makes him even more dependent on Bachmann’s base.

Bottom line: Obama cannot reject a House-passed measure should default be the only other option. Neither can congressional Democrats.

Americans get the president’s fairness pitch. But taxing “the rich” doesn’t guarantee jobs. President John F. Kennedy expressed their view best — he said he wanted to build a bigger pie so everyone can get a bigger piece.

Our prediction: The speaker will get an agreement through the House, but it will need to be seen by the tea party as forcing the president to eat his attacks. It can include a job-creating tax credit package — if Democrats play it smart.

Either way, the House GOP looks likely to pass a $2 trillion-plus debt ceiling bill that has no increase in taxes. Boehner would like to have Bachmann’s support — though he should be able to settle for her saying it is a good start, only not good enough for her.

Democrats have a great fairness argument. But the public knows America needs a growth agenda. In truth, the public doesn’t believe either party has the answer.

So now it turns into Bachmann vs. Obama on the debt ceiling. She needs to show her “titanium spine.” And she has some leverage — Democrats should be willing to trade for tax credits targeted to create jobs, improve education and help U.S. businesses compete with our foreign competitors.

But, critics might say, doesn’t Bachmann need to be “responsible”? That’s in the eye of the beholder. As long as there is no default, she gets a free pass — which should help her in Iowa.

Let’s cut to the bottom line: For the Democrats, this whole debate has to be about jobs, jobs, jobs. If Democrats don’t come out of this with a win on jobs, they lose — big. But far more important, working families — which can’t find good jobs and rely on Democrats to protect them — lose worse.

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