Boehner has a counter-offer on taxes

BOEHNER HAS A COUNTER-OFFER ON TAXES…. My biggest concern with House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) has nothing to do with his ideology or his agenda, though they leave much to be desired. The more meaningful problem is that, when it comes to public policy, Boehner appears to have no idea what he’s talking about.

This morning, for example, Boehner spoke to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, and said he’s “open” to some of President Obama’s tax-cut proposals. But the would-be Speaker preferred to talk about his counter-offer: “Rep. Boehner called for bipartisan cooperation on two new proposals: First, to pass a spending bill now at the 2008 level and second, to extend the current tax rates for two years.”

Ezra Klein highlights the problem.

So on the one hand, a measure that will make a small dent in the deficit. On the other hand, a measure that will lead to a huge increase in the deficit. There’s no theory of the economy in which this really makes sense: If the market is worried about the government’s finances, this makes them worse, not better. If we need lower tax rates, then simply holding the tax rates at the level that produced 2010’s disappointing economic performance isn’t enough.

It’s also worth noting that these policies are both stale: The Bush tax cuts are, well, the Bush tax cuts. They’re tax policy from 10 years ago, designed to deal with a very different set of circumstances. And the 2008 budget is, similarly, just an arbitrary number from some point in the past. Our economic situation has changed dramatically in the past few years. Don’t Republicans have any fresh thinking on what to do about it?

I’ll assume that’s a rhetorical question.

It’s important that political observers resist the urge to assume that those who disagree with them are idiots just because they disagree with them. No one ideology or party has a monopoly on wisdom.

But Boehner seems to have an allergy to policy depth.

He wants to lower spending to 2008 levels. Why? Because those levels were lower. Why would that be worthwhile? Because lower is, you know, better. Likewise, he wants to keep Bush-era tax rates for the wealthiest Americans. Why? Because those rates were lower. Why would that be worthwhile? Because lower is better here, too.

Boehner isn’t just wrong; he’s superficial. He can make an argument and sound coherent, just so long as no one expects a thought any longer than a bumper sticker.

Consider just the past couple of months. He can’t speak intelligently about infrastructure; he can’t speak intelligently about stimulus; he can’t speak intelligently about the economy in general; he can’t speak intelligently about jobs; and he can’t speak intelligently about the Congressional Budget Office.

In late July, at a White House meeting with the congressional leadership of both parties, President Obama reminded Boehner that it was a Republican idea for Bush’s tax rates to expire. Boehner replied that he didn’t “structure” the policy he voted for, eventually leading meeting participants to laugh at him.

I keep wishing John Boehner would step back from his duties for a little while, brush up on policy, and then come back to his role. It’d be less embarrassing for him, and less frustrating for the rest of us.