WASHINGTON—Conservative House Republicans on Wednesday said that President Obama’s reelection victory did not give Democrats a mandate to impose large-scale tax increases.
“I don’t think that 51 percent is much of a mandate,” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., referring to the percentage of the popular vote won by Obama over Republican challenger Mitt Romney. Obama won by less than 3.5 million votes out of the nearly 122 million votes tallied so far.
“He has a mandate to talk about it,” added Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho. “We have a mandate to fight it.”
That mandate to battle, Labrador said, comes from the fact that voters returned a Republican majority to the House.
This week, as lawmakers returned to Washington for a brief post-election session before the Thanksgiving holiday, the White House signaled it would ask for $1.6 trillion in tax increases over the next decade. That is twice the amount of tax increases on the table when Republicans and Democrats tried unsuccessfully to negotiate a long-term deal on the debt crisis in 2011.
At his first press conference since being reelected, Obama said Wednesday he would oppose any legislation that extends the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. Those cuts are set to expire at the end of this year.
“The American people are about to get a graduate lesson on Obamanomics,” said Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., who predicted that the regulatory burdens imposed by the Obama administration would continue to “crush the life out of the economy.”
McClintock and other fiscally conservative Republicans, many of them part of 2010’s historic freshman GOP class that was elected to slow the growth of government, argue that raising taxes in an already unhealthy economy could cause the economy to buckle. They suggest that reforming the tax structure is a safer option than increasing tax rates. They cited states like California and Michigan as examples where increases in taxes led to a decrease in overall revenue as individuals and businesses had less income and profits to be taxed. As an alternative, they favor closing the tax loopholes that allow companies that make millions in profit avoid paying sufficient taxes.
The conservative House Republicans also credited the smaller government policies of many of the nation’s Republican governors as one of the big contributors to the ongoing but slow recovery in those states.
The nation is facing what has been dubbed the “fiscal cliff”: a combination of expiring tax cuts and spending reductions set to occur at the end of this year. The series of automatic budget cuts slated to go into effect, called sequestration, were agreed to by lawmakers during debt talks last year as a way to put off making hard choices before this year’s election. Now with the Dec. 31 deadline approaching and economists issuing dire warnings that the combination of spending cuts and tax increases occurring at once will cripple the economy, lawmakers are looking for another way out.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, scoffed at the proposal floated by Democrats this week that lawmakers raise taxes first and then reduce spending later. He likened it to Lucy perennially pulling away the football at the last minute as Charlie Brown tries to kick it in the Peanuts cartoon. Rep. Huelskamp added that the notion of bridging the fiscal cliff with tax increases first shows that Democrats are not serious about the depths of the financial crisis and the role federal spending plays in stoking the problem.
As lawmakers resumed the debate this week after a seven-week break from a divided Capitol Hill, the Department of Agriculture released new data showing a continued growth in government dependency. In August there were 420,863 new recipients in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps. There are now more than 47 million Americans on food stamps, or more than 19 percent of the population.
House Republicans who make up the party’s conservative wing, many of whom opposed sequestration when it was first proposed last year, are fearful that the impending series of spending reductions have painted conservatives into a corner by targeting the military and medical providers, two groups that normally back the GOP.
In evaluating last week’s national election, Rep. Labrador said that Republicans did a “terrible job of letting the American people know we are not the party of big business.”
He added, “Big business can take care of themselves in Republican administrations and Democratic administrations. We are the party of small business.”
The conservative caucus agreed that Rep. Paul Ryan, the former vice presidential candidate, should play a lead role in pushing for fiscal restraint and that his loss in the election should not force him to yield his role as budget spokesman for the party. Ryan earned two standing ovations from House Republicans this week in his return to Capitol Hill.