Most of my morning has been spent listening to the two camps on twitter and in the news. Half say we got a bad deal in the Fiscal Cliff debate. The other half say we got the best we could and should be happy with the concessions we extracted from the Democrats.
From the beginning, this negotiation has been a mess. Every day we were hearing new details and new proposals, meanwhile, President Obama’s involvement was relaxed to say the least.
Obama’s hands off approach did not go unnoticed and is instructive as to how to approach upcoming battles with his agenda.
“Nothing illustrates the President’s fecklessness in this debate quite as much as the press conference he gave yesterday at the White House,” said one Republican close to the discussions of recent weeks. “While the vice president was working the phones trying to get something done, Obama was standing in front of the cameras, surrounded by a fawning crowd and doing what he enjoys most — sermonizing to a captive audience.”
So thanks to one of the two elected members of the Executive Branch, a deal seems to be inevitable and it has caused a range of emotions across the spectrum. Even the very Senators that voted in favor of the deal seem torn. A Senate Republican aide tells me that “Nobody who voted for this bill is happy about seeing taxes go up on anybody, but just about everybody is happy about making almost all of the Bush tax cuts permanent.”
I admit, I’m very pleased with certain concessions we were able to get, though not enough to feel good about a tax increase. I’m hoping that these last few years of constantly debating temporary tax rates will forever close the door on the use of such a negotiating tactic.
In spite of this and other small victories, I can’t help but acknowledge that in the end, we negotiated a lesser deal with larger majorities than we did in the same debate against a Democrat controlled congress in 2010.
But let’s accept it for what it is. We’ll have to go to war with the deal we have — not the deal we might want or wish to have at a later time. The downside of tax increases aside, I’m being told that there are other benefits to today’s deal. Namely, that the Republicans have swept away the one talking point that the Democrats owned. That now we can have an adult conversation in which we will truly tackle the question of our spending problem, and we’ll be unchained from the anchor of “revenues” as part of the debate.
“Looking ahead, the debate is now exclusively focused on spending cuts,” said the Senate aide. “Most of the Bush tax rates are now set in stone, and the President himself said after last night’s vote that if this bill passes the House the so-called rich will now be ‘paying their fair share.’ So even Obama now admits that the revenue question is settled. The fight now becomes entirely about cuts.”
It’s hard to imagine that these upcoming discussions will be free of demands for tax increases, but even if they are, it’s all moot if the Republicans in the House and Senate can’t be trusted to achieve meaningful cuts to our out-of-control spending. They have thus far failed to make the case that they will do this.
Take as an example, the 2011 Debt Ceiling debate. Unified in our collective resolve to end the government spending spree, Republicans defiantly slammed their scepter into the ground declaring that things must change. This resulted in the laughable “super-committee” who were tasked with finding a tough compromise that would provide balanced spending cuts to help resolve the crisis before we drove off of a “fiscal cliff.” We were predicted to run out of road around the end of 2012.
Out of this Super Committee, a decree was made: either Democrats & Republicans find a way to work together, or spending cuts across the board would be instituted as a way to force their own hand.
We were told this was a victory. That now, the government would be left with absolutely no choice but to deal with the situation or face dire consequences. When those consequences were on the cusp, and the choice that was out of their hands was inevitable … they changed the game and weaseled out of it. No substantial cuts. Taxes went up. Fiscal cliff averted by way of pretending it’s not there.
And now we will be entering a new debt ceiling debate with a great many of the same players that negotiated the first time as well as today. And we, the Tea Party, the grassroots, the conservative base, however you want to refer to the swath of Americans that are for limited government, limited spending, and low taxes, are expected to believe that today’s concession paves the way for a mighty battle in which our sword wielding Republican heroes will slash spending, demand a budget, and bring balance to the Force?
Color me pessimistic. I invite our GOP friends to prove me wrong.
For what it’s worth, I recommend demanding Obama come through on his campaign promise of $2.50 in spending cuts for every $1.00 in tax increases, as White House Chief of Staff, Jack Lew noted on Meet the Press back in February of 2012.
MR. LEW: We’ve seen, we’ve seen from, we’ve seen from Republicans in–particularly Republicans in the House, but with Republicans generally, that they don’t want to be part of any plan that raises taxes at all. The president’s budget has $1 of revenue for every $2 1/2 of spending cuts. This can be done, but it can only be done when we work together.
Since the current estimates put today’s deal at $600 billion over ten years, I can only assume that means our starting point should be in the $1.5 trillion neighborhood. This is of course a drop in the bucket, so perhaps Obama should consider taking up the challenge presented to Romney during the primaries which called for $10 in spending cuts for ever $1 in taxes. After all, the Obama campaign seemed to believe it would be wholly unreasonable not to sign on to such a deal. As such, $6 trillion is looking pretty good.
I’ll end with this advice to the GOP regarding the upcoming debt ceiling debate: When you go into a negotiation, and you hold no willingness to walk away from a deal that is bad, you have already lost. We have averted nothing today if there isn’t a real change around the corner. If you want to stop the fiscal train wreck and have a prayer at midterm victories, for God’s sake stand your ground.