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Opinion

January 12, 2013

Shribman: Identity crisis in the GOP

(Continued)

He has also struck out the speaker repeatedly. It is Boehner’s sad lot to fight a two-front war, one with the president, the other with the firebrands in his caucus. He says he won’t negotiate with the president anymore. He can’t avoid negotiating with his own members.

The rebellion he faces has few precedents, the most recent being the emergence in the 1980s of the Boll Weevil Democrats, who favored tax and spending cuts during the speakership of Thomas P. O’Neill Jr. of Massachusetts. Democrats then could defect to the other party — Phil Gramm of Texas was the most prominent — but that option is not available to today’s rebels. They’re stuck in the GOP, and the GOP is stuck with them.

The Republicans — all of them, not just the rebels — now are saying that the passage of the New Year’s Eve fiscal-cliff legislation marks the end of the tax debate and the beginning of the spending debate. They may be right. But not necessarily.

If they define tax increases as any increase in revenues through direct assessments on taxpayers — and many do — they may be wrong. Some proposals to shore up Social Security involve increased revenues, perhaps by lifting or eliminating the income ceiling on individual contributions, now set at $113,700. (By the way, wasn’t the quiet elevation of that ceiling by $3,600 at the start of the year a tax increase?) And that’s only one example.

The Republicans have put away the tax tool. Obama may not have.

An equally vital question is the face Republicans present to a public that is undergoing dramatic demographic changes and that signaled only two months ago that it is moving away from the Republicans. Stated simply: The Republic is growing less white while the Republicans are growing more so.

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