Plan B from Outer Space
By Robert Hockett
Many of our more cultivated readers, particularly the cinephiles among them, might be at least passingly familiar with Ed Wood’s 1959 anti-classic, Plan 9 from Outer Space. Designated ‘the worst movie ever made’ by the redoubtable Medved brothers, the film’s science-fiction-meets-horror-story plot involves a plan by extraterrestrials to plague earth-dwellers with zombies, whom (which?) they resurrect by stimulating the pituitary and pineal glands of corpses, all in order to distract the earthlings from constructing a world-imperiling doomsday weapon. Among other inspiredly camp curiosities, the film posthumously stars Bela Lugosi – known in the film as ‘the Old Man’ – in the form of film clips that Wood had shot of Lugosi for other purposes prior to his death.
Shift now to a parallel universe not that far from the world of Plan 9, in which what transpires is not the worst movie ever made, but surely the worst legislative story ever told. Yes, I speak of Washington, DC, where I am located while on sabbatic this year and where all of the talk in the past several days has been of another plan involving the walking dead and conceived by agents who seem to inhabit another planet, or at any rate another era – perhaps that of Herbert Hoover. I speak of John Boehner’s ‘Plan B.’
Plan B, not to be confused with the abortifacient (though it was indeed meant to prevent something happening that might otherwise happen), was purportedly conceived to avert that ersatz doomsday known as the 'fiscal cliff.' In fact, however, it was meant to do something else. Plan B would have permitted the disastrous Bush-era tax cuts, set to expire as of 31 December, to expire only for increments of income over $ 1 million, while converting the remainder to permanent status. Since President Obama had campaigned on a figure of $250K, and in post-electoral compromise mode gone no higher than $400K, Boehner apparently believed that proposing and passing Plan B would enable Congressional Republicans to embarrass the President by first 'doing something constructive' to avert ersatz doomsday and then being rebuffed by a new putative 'party of "no"' - Mr. Obama's Democrats.
As strategies go, Plan B was of course characteristically (for Republicans) gamey and bad faith in character - unlike Plan 9 of the extraterrestrials, who were at least trying to save us from ourselves. The bad faith is manifest when one considers Plan B against the background fact that the President and the Democrats could have offered ahead of time their own Plan A, conceived before the election, to do precisely what Plan B did save with a lower threshold for tax cut expiry - either the President's campaign promise of $250K or his recent compromise to $400K.
The original rendition of that Plan - what I am calling 'Plan A' - was to employ it as a fallback after New Year's in the event that ersatz-fiscal-doomsday-averting compromise was not reached by 31 December. Holding it in reserve in that way demonstrated the good faith willingness of the Dems to seek compromise before resorting to use of the lever afforded by the Bush tax cuts' sunset clause. Republican gun-jumping on Plan B would accordingly have constituted a cheap cheat - had they passed it in the House as Boehner attempted.
As it happens, however, Plan B proved ultimately to be more saliently science-fiction bizarro than dastardly. For Mr. Boehner's fellow Republicans, true to contemporary form, ultimately proved unwilling to relinquish their 'party of no' title to the Democrats. They rejected Mr. Boehner's Plan B and the opportunity it offered potentially to embarrass the President and the Democrats, apparently because it allowed the expiry of any of the Bush tax cuts at all - even for increments of income over $1 million. And so we are just about back where we were, with ersatz doomsday looming and the Democrats ready to nullify the effects of that day by passing new tax cuts for non-plutocrats the very day after.
What is most campily comical about all of this, rendering it fit fodder for cornball science-fiction-cum-monster-movie or farce, is that the Republican rejection of Republican Plan B now offers the public a lovely holiday gift - namely, a President newly able to stick to his own principles and promises as issued throughout the 2012 campaign. For why offer to compromise the tax rise on income increments over $250K by raising the amount - even merely to $400K - once Republicans have shown that they will accept literally no expiration short of full expiration? The answer is that they should not. Democrats should simply proceed with Plan A, as they have planned all along absent compromise by Republicans.
Let all of the Bush tax cuts expire, then, and then immediately introduce legislation to trim taxes again for those who will use the savings to boost still badly needed consumer expenditure rather than to engage in more volatility-inducing financial speculation. Meanwhile the planet will continue in its elliptical orbit about the sun, and the zombies will keep losing elections.