Will John McCain leap into the breach?
Republicans are lying coming and going. They hold down the sticker price of the bill and minimize its impact on the deficit by having the middle-class tax cuts (but not the corporate reductions) expire. But they insist that future Congresses would keep the middle-class tax cuts in place.
So they are either lying about the deficit, or misleading the middle class.
Ryan has already burnished his standing as a deficit hypocrite by pushing a comparable tax cut through the House. But don't you worry. As soon as Republicans shovel every dollar they can to the people who pay their party's bills, he'll dust off those old the-sky-is-falling quotes and warn about the deficits he helped to bloat. He'll tell us how urgent it is to slash Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and programs for the needy (although he'll try to bamboozle us again by claiming only to be "reforming" them).
What can stop this duplicitous raid on the federal treasury? A mobilization at the grass roots that tries to muster some of the energy that went into saving Obamacare would be helpful. But in the end, the honor of the Republican Party is in the hands of a small number of senators.
Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and Jeff Flake of Arizona have said over and over that (unlike their two-faced leaders) they actually do care about the deficit, even where this tax-cut bill is concerned. If they don't vote against it, they will be enrolling in the Ryan-McConnell Deficit Prevarication Association. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine is as close as there is to a genuine moderate in the Senate GOP. Voting for this utterly immoderate scheme will mean tossing her moderate credentials into a bonfire.
But the man whose voice most needs to be heard is Arizona Sen. John McCain's. Over the last few months, he really has been the conscience of the Senate. This summer, he gave a remarkable speech during the Obamacare debate in which he chided the party's leadership for "asking us to swallow our doubts and force [the bill] past a unified opposition."
"I don't think that's going to work in the end," he said, "and it probably shouldn't."
It definitely shouldn't work on this Pay-Off-Our-Donors tax cut. More than anyone, McCain could give Corker, Flake and Collins the heart to follow their convictions.
E.J. Dionne's email address is email@example.com. Twitter: @EJDionne.
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