Time to Put the National Interest Ahead of Ideology, Branding

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 18:  U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) listens during a media availability after a
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 18: U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) listens during a media availability after a House Republican Conference meeting December 18, 2012 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Speaker Boehner announced that he is moving to a plan B to solve the fiscal cliff issue and he will put a bill on the floor that increases taxes for people whose incomes are more than one million dollars. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

In a televised interview last week, Republican Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas said that nothing the president offered in spending cuts could convince him to vote to raise income taxes, not even on the wealthiest Americans. Nothing, nada, zip.

In the same week, Republican Rep. Allen West of Florida explained why he opposed Speaker Boehner's "Plan B" to allow tax rates to increase on incomes above $1 million. "If you don't draw a contrast with the other side, who are you?" West asked.

Somewhere along the way, some House Republicans seemed to have confused ideology for common sense and branding for governing. And soon -- perhaps as early as next week -- we may all pay the price for their confusion.

According to the polls, the public has already decided that Republicans will bear the brunt of the blame if Congress and President Obama fail to reach an agreement to keep our economy from falling off the so-called "fiscal cliff" or defaulting on our debt.

Personally, I don't care which political party gets the blame. What I am concerned about -- and what every member of Congress should be concerned about -- is how we can avoid this completely unnecessary train wreck from happening in the first place.

Without a deal before year's end, our economy will run smack into an austerity headwind created by the combination of tax increases and deep spending cuts that will stifle the recovery and potentially ignite a global recession.

The pain will be especially hard for people living paycheck to paycheck in the higher taxes they would pay and the access they would lose to vital safety-net programs, and for the long-term unemployed, who would lose the unemployment insurance they need to make ends meet.

This is an emergency for tens of millions of Americans, and fortunately, some Republicans have signaled that they're willing to accept a fair deal that balances spending cuts and tax increases. But too many House Republicans seem more concerned about their branding and maintaining an ideological purity against raising taxes.

President Obama has been clear that he wants to head off this disaster-in-the-making, but it requires bipartisan support to do so. Throughout the negotiations, the president has shown flexibility in ways that many of us who advocate for the poor and middle class are not happy about, like putting benefit cuts for Social Security recipients on the table.

But so far, even that extraordinary offer and the president's willingness to accept smaller tax increases hasn't been enough to entice House Republicans to reconsider their stubborn allegiance to tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

Time is running out, but it's not too late for Republicans to choose to put common sense and governing ahead of branding and ideology. That's the only way we'll be able to move past the cliff and move forward as a nation, together.