When President Obama won in November the electorate also rendered a verdict on the priorities of the two major political parties. Democrats, most voters believe, are more concerned with the plight of the middle class than Republicans, who ran on a platform of actually lowering income taxes on wealthy Americans.
In the intervening months, Republican operatives have become practitioners of a new kind of alchemy, attempting with little success to convince voters that the right’s long-standing agenda — reduced regulation for big business, lower taxes for the wealthy and big corporations, privatized and diminished social services — is actually an array of policies that coincidentally meets the needs of the middle class.
Enter House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who’s hit upon a new plan. If you can’t turn lead into gold, go out and buy some gold paint.
In a major policy address at the conservative American Enterprise Institute Tuesday, Cantor said Republicans are looking beyond the budget brinksmanship that’s gripped the right for years to a new, more narrowly tailored agenda for the middle class.
“In Washington, over the past few weeks and months, our attention has been on cliffs, debt ceilings and budgets, on deadlines and negotiations,” he said. “All of this is very important, as there is no substitute for getting our fiscal house in order. … But today, I’d like to focus our attention on what lies beyond these fiscal debates.”
Some of the ideas he described were old, some new. Some would genuinely serve the interests of a wider electorate, others would not. But even if Republicans shift their rhetorical focus to less objectionable policies they’re still devoting all of their legislative heft to the same platform and style of governance that cost them the election.
Nevertheless, as Cantor delivered his remarks, GOP leaders simultaneously denounced Obama’s proposal to pay down the sequester’s deep spending cuts with a mix of more gradual cuts and higher taxes on wealthy interests. For them, the sequester — all $1.2 trillion worth — can only be paid down with cuts to other programs. No new revenue, no matter the source, according to influential Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK).
In order then, replacing the sequester with cuts to food stamps and Medicaid would be preferable to letting the sequester take effect, but both would be preferable to any sequester replacement that includes even a thimble full of tax revenue wrung from closing loopholes that benefit powerful interests.
The GOP’s real, immediate priorities are thus no different than they were before the election.
Those priorities didn’t carry the day in November. And in the months since, Republicans, and the conservative movement writ large, have been debating amongst themselves whether their priorities need an overhaul, or whether they just need to shoehorn them into packaging that will appeal to the broad middle class.