Tea Party Activists Unwilling To Bend On Taxes

BOSTON — In the city where a protest over tax policy sparked a revolution, modern day tea party activists are cheering the recent Republican revolt in Washington that embarrassed House Speaker John Boehner and pushed the country closer to a “fiscal cliff” that forces tax increases and massive spending cuts on virtually every American.

“I want conservatives to stay strong,” says Christine Morabito, president of the Greater Boston Tea Party. “Sometimes things have to get a lot worse before they get better.”

Anti-tax conservatives from every corner of the nation echo her sentiment.

In more than a dozen interviews with The Associated Press, activists said they would rather fall off the cliff than agree to a compromise that includes tax increases for any Americans, no matter how high their income. They dismiss economists’ warnings that the automatic tax increases and deep spending cuts set to take effect Jan. 1 could trigger a fresh recession, and they overlook the fact that most people would see their taxes increase if President Barack Obama and Boehner, R-Ohio, fail to reach a year-end agreement.

The strong opposition among tea party activists and Republican leaders from New Hampshire to Wyoming and South Carolina highlights divisions within the GOP as well as the challenge that Obama and Boehner face in trying to get a deal done.

On Capitol Hill, some Republicans worry about the practical and political implications should the GOP block a compromise designed to avoid tax increases for most Americans and cut the nation’s deficit.

“It weakens the entire Republican Party, the Republican majority,” Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio, said Thursday night shortly after rank-and-file Republicans rejected Boehner’s “Plan B” – a measure that would have prevented tax increases on all Americans but million-dollar earners.

“I mean it’s the continuing dumbing down of the Republican Party and we are going to be seen more and more as a bunch of extremists that can’t even get a majority of our own people to support policies that we’re putting forward,” LaTourette said. “If you’re not a governing majority, you’re not going to be a majority very long.”

It’s a concern that does not seem to resonate with conservatives such as tea party activist Frank Smith of Cheyenne, Wyo. He cheered Boehner’s failure as a victory for anti-tax conservatives and a setback for Obama, just six weeks after the president won re-election on a promise to cut the deficit in part by raising taxes on incomes exceeding $250,000.

Smith said his “hat’s off” to those Republicans in Congress who rejected their own leader’s plan.

“Let’s go over the cliff and see what’s on the other side,” the blacksmith said. “On the other side” are tax increases for most Americans, not just the top earners, though that point seemed lost on Smith, who added: “We have a day of reckoning coming, whether it’s next week or next year. Sooner or later the chickens are coming home to roost. Let’s let them roost next week.”

It’s not just tea party activists who want Republicans in Washington to stand firm.

In conservative states such as South Carolina and Louisiana, party leaders are encouraging members of their congressional delegations to oppose any deal that includes tax increases. Elected officials from those states have little political incentive to cooperate with the Democratic president, given that most of their constituents voted for Obama’s Republican opponent, Mitt Romney.

“If it takes us going off a cliff to convince people we’re in a mess, then so be it,” South Carolina GOP Chairman Chad Connelly said. “We have a president who is a whiner. He has done nothing but blame President Bush. It’s time to make President Obama own this economy.”

In Louisiana, state GOP Chairman Roger Villere said that “people are frustrated with Speaker Boehner. They hear people run as conservatives, run against tax hikes. They want them to keep their word.”

Jack Kimball, a former New Hampshire GOP chairman, said he was “elated” that conservatives thwarted Boehner. He called the looming deadline a political creation. “The Republicans really need to stand on their principles. They have to hold firm.”

Conservative opposition to compromise with Obama does not reflect the view of most Americans, according to recent public opinion polls.

A CBS News survey conducted this month found that 81 percent of adults wanted Republicans in Congress to compromise in the current budget negotiations to get a deal done rather than “stick to their positions even if it means not coming to an agreement.” The vast majority of Republicans and independent voters agreed.

Overall, 47 percent in the poll said they blamed Republicans in Congress more than Obama and Democrats for recent “difficulties in reaching agreements and passing legislation in Congress.” About one-quarter placed more blame on the Democrats and 21 percent said both were responsible.

Although negotiations broke down last week, Obama still hopes to broker a larger debt-reduction deal that includes tax increases on high earners and Republican-favored cuts to entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security. If a compromise continues to prove elusive, lawmakers could pass a temporary extension that delays the cliff’s most onerous provisions and gives Congress more time to work out a longer-term solution.

That’s becoming the favored path by some Republicans leery of going over the cliff.

Mississippi Republican Chairman Joe Nosef shares his Southern colleagues’ disdain for tax increases. But he stopped short of taking an absolute position.

“I really, really feel like the only way that Republicans can mess up badly is if they come away with nothing on spending or something that’s the same old thing where they hope a Congress in 10 years will have the intestinal fortitude to do it,” he said.

Matt Kibbe, president of the national organization and tea party ally, FreedomWorks, says that going over the cliff would be “a fiscal disaster.” He says “the only rational thing to do” is approve a temporary extension that prevents widespread tax increases.

But his message doesn’t seem to resonate with conservative activists in the states.

“If we have to endure the pain of the cliff then so be it,” said Mark Anders, a Republican committeeman for Washington state’s Lewis County. “While it may spell the end of the Republican Party … at least we will force the government to cut and cut deep into actual spending.”

Back where the Boston Tea Party protest took place in 1773, Morabito wonders whether Boehner will survive the internal political upheaval and says Republicans need to unite against Obama.

“It looked like from the very beginning they were just going to cave to what President Obama wanted,” she said of the GOP. “I didn’t want that to happen. Now I’m hopeful that they’re standing up for taxpaying Americans.”

___

Associated Press writers Bill Barrow in Atlanta, Rachel La Corte and Michael Baker in Washington state, Thomas Beaumont in Iowa, and AP Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta in Washington contributed to this report.

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Some lawmakers voiced concern on Sunday that the country would go over “the fiscal cliff” in nine days, triggering harsh spending cuts and tax hikes, and some Republicans charged that was President Barack Obama’s goal.

Fear, finger-pointing mount over “fiscal cliff”

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Some lawmakers voiced concern on Sunday that the country would go over “the fiscal cliff” in nine days, triggering harsh spending cuts and tax hikes, and some Republicans charged that was President Barack Obama’s goal.

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Fiscal Cliff Fear, Finger-Pointing Abound

* Little sign of movement in talks

* Focus shifting to Congress acting after Jan. 1

By Thomas Ferraro and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON, Dec 23 (Reuters) – Some U.S. lawmakers voiced concern on Sunday that the country would go over “the fiscal cliff” in nine days, triggering harsh spending cuts and tax hikes, and some Republicans charged that was President Barack Obama’s goal.

“It’s the first time that I feel it’s more likely that we will go over the cliff than not,” Senator Joe Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“If we allow that to happen it will be the most colossal consequential act of congressional irresponsibility in a long time, maybe ever in American history.”

“It looks like to me that obviously this is going to drag on into next year, which is going to hurt our economy,” Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee said on CBS “Capitol Gains.”

The Democratic president and Republican House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, the two key negotiators, are not talking and are out of town for the Christmas holidays. Congress is in recess, and will have only a few days next week to act before Jan. 1.

On the Sunday TV talk shows, no one signaled a change of position that could form the basis for a short-term fix, despite a suggestion from Obama on Friday that he would favor one.

The focus was shifting instead to the days following Jan. 1 when the lowered tax rates dating back to President George W. Bush’s administration will have expired, presenting Congress with a redefined and more welcome task that involves only cutting taxes, not raising them.

“I believe we are,” going over the cliff, Republican Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming said on Fox News Sunday. “I think the president is eager to go over the cliff for political purposes. I think he sees a political victory at the bottom of the cliff.”

Some Republicans have said Obama would welcome the fiscal cliff’s tax increases and defense cuts, as well as the chance to blame Republicans for rejecting deal. Obama has rejected that assertion.

Democrats have charged that Boehner has his own self-interested reasons for avoiding a deal before Jan. 3, when the House elected on Nov. 6, is sworn in and casts votes for a new speaker.

Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Boehner has been reluctant to reach across the political aisle for fear it could cost him the speakership when he runs for re-election. “I know he’s worried,” said Schumer.

Boehner, who so far has no serious challenger for the job of speaker, has said that he has no such concerns.

Such finger pointing has been under way since Congress returned after the election, but it has gained intensity in the past few days, with the heightened prospect of plunging off the cliff.

Congress started the clock ticking in August of 2011 on the cliff. The threat of about $600 billion of spending cuts and tax increases was intended to shock the Democratic-led White House and Senate and the Republican-led House into bridging their many differences to approve a plan to bring tax relief to most Americans and curb runaway federal spending.

Economists say the harsh tax increases and budget cuts from the fiscal cliff could thrust the world’s largest economy back into a recession, unless Congress acts quickly to ease the economic blow.

MARKETS COULD TUMBLE

The most immediate impact could come in financial markets, which have been relatively calm in recent weeks as Republicans and Democrats bickered, but could tumble without prospects for a deal.

Markets will be open for a half-day on Christmas Eve, when Congress will not be in session, and will be closed on Tuesday for Christmas.

Wall Street will resume regular stock trading on Wednesday, but volume is expected to be light throughout the week with scores of market participants away on a holiday break.

If Congress fails to reach any agreement, income tax rates will go up on just about everyone on Jan. 1. Unemployment benefits, which Democrats had hoped to extend as part of a deal, will expire for many as well.

In the first week of January, Congress could scramble and get a quick deal on taxes and the $109 billion in automatic spending cuts for 2013 that most lawmakers want to avoid.

Once tax rates go up on Jan. 1, it could be easier to keep those higher rates on wealthier taxpayers while reducing them for middle- and lower-income taxpayers. Lawmakers would not have to cast votes to raise taxes.

Some lawmakers expressed guarded hope that a short-term deal on deficit reduction could be reached in the next week or so, with a longer, more permanent deal hammered out next year.

But a short-term deal would need bipartisan support, as Obama has said he would veto a bill that does not raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans.

Democratic Senator Kent Conrad, chairman of the Budget Committee, said Obama and Boehner are not that far apart and that both sides should keep pushing for a long-term big deal.

“I would hope we would have one last attempt here to do what everyone knows needs to be done, which is the larger plan that really does stabilize the debt and get us moving in the right direction,” Conrad of North Dakota told Fox News Sunday.

But most Republicans are now looking past Jan. 1 to what they consider their next best chance of leveraging Obama for more cuts in the Federal budget – a fight over the debt ceiling expected in late January or early February. At that time, the administration will need Congress’ authorization to raise the limit on the amount of money the government can borrow.

“That’s where the real chance for change occurs, at the debt-ceiling debate,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said on “Meet the Press.”

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