Plan C, for cliff: House GOP extremists will push the nation over

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Republican lawmakers won't hear of voting to raise tax rates for the richest Americans. Instead, they're ready to leap off the fiscal cliff next week, forcing damaging across-the-board cuts in spending.

That outcome also threatens to return the nation to recession, roiling global financial markets and potentially costing millions of Americans their jobs. And it will automatically increase taxes for nearly all Americans -- including the wealthiest households that Republicans are so determined to protect.

Last week, House Speaker John Boehner allowed his caucus to humiliate him. He advanced a "Plan B" that would have raised tax rates only on millionaires, but pulled it without a vote when House Republicans refused to support even that modest concession to political reality.

It would be understandable if President Obama, who is returning to Washington after cutting short his family vacation, sought to exploit his adversaries' disorder. But the president would serve the nation better by continuing to seek a bipartisan compromise to avert the fiscal cliff.

It won't be easy. Mr. Boehner's inability to deliver his own caucus has left the president without a negotiating partner. Mr. Obama already has agreed to concessions -- acquiescence in higher tax rates for 1 percent rather than 2 percent of Americans, acceptance of a new formula to curb cost-of-living increases for Social Security benefits, etc. -- that many Democrats and allied interest groups oppose.

Yet as House GOP lawmakers remain oblivious to their setback in last month's election, they still define compromise as having both parties agree to do things their way. That isn't leadership. It's extremism.

In returning to the financial fray, President Obama must remind Congress that he is the leader of this country, not just of his party, and that he has compromised enough.

If that doesn't work on the recalcitrant Republicans, then Americans will know whom to blame.

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