Left to their own devices, President Barack Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner would surely be able to cut a deal on the fiscal cliff. They are both reasonable men. Senators of both parties also appear eager for a deal.
There is just one sticking point: House Republicans are every bit as loopy today as they were in 2011, when they decided it would be a good idea to drive the economy into a ditch rather than raise the debt ceiling. (They ultimately did raise the debt limit, but only by creating the current crisis -- the combination of tax hikes and spending cuts knows as the fiscal cliff -- in the process. Great work, guys.)
Michele Bachmann's still a member of the House. Allen West lost his re- election (though, naturally, he disputes that), but he'll be haunting the Capitol hallways until they exorcise him in January. Louie Gohmert's in the green room at Fox News (or at MSNBC, whenever the hosts want a clown on air to make conservatives look stupid). Most of the fools, knaves, ideologues and know- nothings who made the House a spectacle of stupidity over the past two years are back. And what they learned from their re-election is that there is no penalty whatsoever for irresponsibility.
"If both sides agree that we can get more revenue through economic growth, then we can agree," Representative Tim Huelskamp tells the Washington Post. Ah yes, the magic of growth. Boehner's problem is that you cannot cut a tax deal involving real dollars with people who trade in magic dollars. Huelskamp went on to explain that if Boehner tries to address the deficit with real dollars -- that is, actual revenue -- it's bound to "split the party wide open."
"Compromise has a very small constituency," Republican Representative Trey Gowdy said. "Very small."
Given the peculiar nature of his troops, the only way Boehner can deliver a deal with Obama is to cleave his caucus in two, with a rump of realist Republicans joining Democrats to vote for higher tax revenue. What are the chances of that? Even smaller than the constituency for compromise.
(Francis Wilkinson is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board. Follow him on Twitter.)
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