NEW YORK - The "fiscal cliff" fiasco has left the Grand Old Party in tatters. Dazed, confused and fractured, Republican legislators very publicly have violated some of their most unshakable principles in exchange for a tiny sack of broken marbles.
Meanwhile, the party's wobbly congressional leadership makes the Maginot Line look like the Great Wall of China.
With the admirable exceptions of Iowa's Charles Grassley, Utah's Mike Lee, Kentucky's Rand Paul, Florida's Marco Rubio and Alabama's Richard Shelby, GOP senators swallowed a cartoonishly inadequate deal. Conservatives were saddened when our sainted Ronald Reagan, mired in the 1982 recession, traded $3 in spending cuts for every $1 in higher taxes. In 1990, we were outraged when we read Daddy Bush's lips as he endorsed $2 in budget cuts for each $1 in tax increases. Of course, those spending cuts evaporated, since Democrats always whine loudly enough to scare away the piper before he can get paid.
But those dark days are like a rainbow-sized Laffer Curve compared to the "bargain" that passed Congress on New Year's Day: This legislation cuts spending by $1 for every $41 in higher taxes. Yup: $1-to-$41. And that $1 likely won't get cut.
Not even joints get rolled as easily as Republicans.
This legislation boosts net spending by $330 billion and increases the national debt by $3.9 trillion through 2022. This is how Washington defines "bipartisan debt reduction." This law also contains $7 million in special tax favors for electric scooters, $59 million for biofuel-algae growers, $78 million for NASCAR, $222 million for Puerto Rican rum producers, and $248 million for the motion-picture industry. Conversely, it offers no escape from the brand new 2.3 percent "Obamacare" tax that already is killing jobs and innovation in the life-saving medical device industry.
Republicans reply that they caved today to fight another day. The looming debt-ceiling battle supposedly will find them as intrepid as a Marine battalion, itching to slash spending and re-limit government. Believe it when you see it. For now, free-marketeers would be lucky if Republicans donned the blue helmets of United Nations peacekeepers.
The GOP also backed higher tax rates on upper-income individuals. By conceding Obama's class-warfare argument that "the rich" must pay their "fair share" of taxes, Republicans have rendered themselves incapable of refuting this central lie. They should have responded that, in 2010, the top 10 percent of filers earned 45 percent of national income and paid 71 percent of federal income taxes. When Obama screams yet again for more tax "fairness," Republicans no longer can claim that they are protecting their tax-hike virginity, having shared a tax-raising toss with Obama in the back seat of Cadillac One.
The House passed this measure with Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and just 84 other Republicans, and an overwhelming 172 Democrats voting aye. Meanwhile, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., inspired 150 Republicans to vote no, along with 16 Democrats.
As if becoming untrustworthy on spending and taxes were not calamitous enough, Boehner boneheadedly canceled a Monday night vote on $60 billion in aid for Hurricane Sandy's victims. The Senate shamefully contaminated this bill with such pollution as $2 million for Smithsonian roof repairs, $8 million for new Justice Department vehicles, and $150 million for Alaskan fisheries!
Boehner should have purified the Senate bill of such irrelevancies, pushed it through the House, and sent it across the Capitol without the detritus that senators recklessly inserted. Instead, Boehner scotched the Sandy vote without explanation -- even to such GOP allies as Rep. Peter King of New York -- then endured bitter bipartisan criticism for his high-handed callousness. Boehner eventually relented and promised Sandy-relief votes early in this new Congress. But Boehner suffered deep, self-inflicted wounds that make him look simultaneously cruel and inept.
So, like Democrats, Republicans are now a free-spending, tax-hiking party. But, unlike Democrats, they are badly split, hopelessly unable to play hardball, and appear mean to hurricane victims.
Happy New Year!
Deroy Murdock is a columnist with Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University.