The Doomsday Scenario Takes Shape

The New York Times’s daily update on fiscal cliff machinations includes some crisp details about a Republican break-the-glass plan.

If no deal is reached, Republicans are increasingly talking about a more hostile outcome in which the House passes legislation that extends tax cuts for the middle class, sets relatively low tax rates on dividends, capital gains and inherited estates, and cancels the across-the-board defense cuts, but leaves in place across-the-board domestic cuts. Then House Republicans would engage in what Mr. Boehner, in a private meeting last week, called “trench warfare,” a running battle with the president on spending, first as the government approaches its statutory borrowing limit early next year, then in late March, when a stopgap government spending bill runs out.

This is foremost a “messaging” solution. Republicans have already passed a permanent extension of all tax rates in the House, but no one remembers that. Any kind of break from the anti-tax pledge would be covered as a serious Republican evolution, one they could not bring themselves to go through for the past 20 years.

But you’re starting to hear Republicans say two things. One: They are not going to allow anything like the debt limit increase to be traded away in a deal, not just to beat the December 31 deadline. Two: They don’t agree that they’d be blamed, in the long-term, for “going over the cliff.” They’ve consistently said that a presidential “failure of leadership” caused the impasse, and they believe that the effects of any downturn would be blamed, by the public, on the president.