The Democrats’ Desired Deal Is No Deal

President Barack Obama Tuesday indicated an unwillingness to strike a deal with Republicans to avoid tax increases and spending cuts—dubbed the “fiscal cliff” by Ben Bernanke—unless the opposition agrees to raise taxes on the wealthy. “We’re going to have to see the rates on the top two percent go up and we’re not going to be able to get a deal without it,” he explained to cable’s Bloomberg channel in his first television interview since the election.

The hard line, following a bizarre proposal to include additional “stimulus” spending as part of the deficit-reduction plan and vest unilateral power in the president to raise the debt ceiling, has convinced many that the president wishes to drive off the fiscal cliff with his foot firmly on the gas pedal. Reporting within the left-wing press supports the idea that the president isn’t averse to walking away from the bargaining table. “What has changed is the president’s hand,” David Corn of Mother Jones reports. “According to senior administration officials, Obama is not eager to go over the cliff, but he is willing. If no deal is reached by the end of the month, all the Bush tax cuts—for the rich and not rich—will evaporate.”

Certainly the president’s left-wing considers no deal the most desirable deal.

Former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean, appearing on Lawrence O’Donnell’s MSNBC program last week, called the fiscal cliff “the best deal progressive Democrats are going to get.” Why? “One, we get the Clinton tax rates on everybody. Will it cause a problem? Yes. There will be a short recession and it will be painful. But two, we get defense cuts. Republicans are never going to agree to that. And three, there are some human services cuts which we`re not going to like, but it’s the least possible damage.”

When asked if going off the fiscal cliff were the best option, liberal economist Dean Baker told The Progressive “Absolutely.” The Center for Economic and Policy Research director explained, “The do-nothing outcome is the one [Obama] campaigned on.” Without a deal, the president gets steep defense reductions and gets to “raise taxes on the richest 2 percent, which is what he wanted.”

Radio host Thom Hartmann finds “an incredible opportunity” in the fiscal cliff. “I think it’s time to drive off the so-called fiscal cliff,” he explained to followers, calling the deadline to avert tax hikes and spending cuts “nothing but a speed bump.” Hartmann articulated three reasons progressives should support leaping off the fiscal cliff. First, though “it goes nowhere as far as it should, which would be to roll back the Reagan tax cuts, it’s a start on moving America in a more egalitarian direction.” Second, “most of those cuts to the Pentagon budget are good things.” And third, it will put Republicans on record as hating the poor and aged by endorsing cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.

To be sure, a few right-of center scribes, including The Daily Caller’s Tucker Carlson and The Daily Beast’s Megan McArdle, have similarly written of going off the fiscal cliff as a favorable outcome. But the sentiment’s popularity among the president’s base, coupled with the president’s my-way-or-the-highway proposals, hints that the Obama already has most of what he wants through last year’s delayed deficit-reduction agreement that has become known as the fiscal cliff.

Speaker of the House John Boehner may lament the bargaining position in which he finds himself. But he shouldn’t forget that he put himself there. When the Speaker of the House held the cards during the summer of 2011 debt-ceiling negotiations, he traded Republican votes supporting an increased debt-ceiling for a deficit-reduction plan that relied primarily on tax hikes and defense cuts. Put another way, he agreed to give the president what he wanted (the power to borrow more money) in exchange for more of what the president wanted (defense cuts and tax hikes). Boehner’s adversary has the cards because he handed them to him.

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  • patron

    There's waste at the Pentagon as well. Unfortunately instead of cutting administration expenses, like $1,100 office chairs so bureaucrats can keep their jobs, they will reduce the amount of active duty service personnel and research into new technology.

    Big government advocates think they can hike taxes without consequences. Britain and France tried that great idea, and businesses moved and their government budgets took in less money.

    Despite conventional wisdom, Democrats will be hurt by this. I feel Republicans have an opportunity to distance themselves from government and focus on leadership in the private sector.

    • Lucifer Dye

      I don't know about waste at the Pentagon, although I'm pretty sure there must be. It is, after all, a government institution, with all that that entails. You didn't mention the military, however. I have a son, a sergeant in the Marine Corps, who's just returned from a tour in the dangerous Helmand Province in Afghanistan. One of the things he talked about was the appalling waste of money, something he said would make us all more sick than we already are if we could but witness it. Surely something could be done in this area.

      Michael Scheuer, one of G. W. Bush's terrorism experts and no leftie, advocates sensible spending on defense rather than the military. The distinction he makes is a good one. After all, even Ike, no leftie peacenik, decried the growing size of the military and the waste that went along with it. Yet oddly nothing ever gets done in this area.

    • tagalog

      The idea of Republicans distancing themselves from the Obama form of government strikes me as an interesting idea. When they did that during the Obamacare flap, the Dems found it necessary to criticize them for not being engaged in running the nation, while at the same time double-binding them with the Democrat majority in Congress and passing legislation without negotiating with Republicans.

      Maybe this time the Repubs could make disengagment into something that works.

  • tagalog

    We will go over the fiscal cliff. The Democrats and the Republicans are too far apart and the politicians think that's preferable to actually being responsible for some decision. The Republicans will get the blame for the financial difficulties that follow. Unless a charismatic Republican of national reputation emerges, that blame will carry to at least the 2016 election and probably beyond that one. Americans will swallow the Obama line that left-wing economics are in the best interests of our people and our nation and will solve our financial problems. By the time the 2016 election comes around, we will be financially ruined with the rest of the world to follow. President Obama will end his second term in triumph, applauded by about 1/2 of Americans.

  • Deerknocker

    Boehner should really brush up on Negotiating 101. First rule: if your adversary knows you are desperate for a deal, the deal you get will be less than you want. Boehner is like a trained circus dog waiting for Obama to throw a new ring into the air so Boehner can jump through it. In the process he has publicly taken on the shoulders of the Republican party the responsibility for reaching a deal. Where in the Book of Government is it written that the Republicans have sole responsibility for offering concessions necessary to woo Democrats? The Democrats either do not want a deal or are making a considerable show of not wanting one. In either case, the best result comes from passing a tax / spending bill in the House that will pass Republican (and Tea Party) muster, sending it to the Senate, and then going to play a round or two of golf. If the Senate Democrats vote the Republican bill down or refuse to let the bill come up for a vote, then shame on them. Let them explain why we fell of the cliff when a perfectly good legislative alternative was before them. If Obama vetoes, shame on him and he can do the explaining. Boehner wants to be respected as the reasonable adult in the room more than he wants to win, and that means in the end he will neither win nor be respected, and the Republicans with him.

  • Neal

    I have come to believe that Obama wants to let all Bush tax cuts expire. That way, he gets to break his promise, tax everyone & blame it on the GOP.

    • Rebecca

      I agree with you. As much as Obama and the Dems like to spout rhetoric about how they care about the middle class, their real opinion is that the middle class is so bourgeois. In my opinion they want a hand picked select group of rich elites of their like mind and a dependent class that can be cheaply bought, (obamaphones and crappy healthcare) all paid for by the bourgeois class they so detest. I may be overstating, but I have become incredibly cynical since the election. I still don't get it. How could my fellow Americans put this failure back in office with his track record. Unbelievable. "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss." This is all so familiar. Did they think it would be different.

  • Michael Canzano

    We are already over the "Cliff" . If 16+ trillion dollars in debt isn't over the "Cliff" , then what amount is?
    I believe there are 525 people in D.C. responsible for this debt . My guess is at least 500 of them belong in
    "Pelican Bay" (a California Prison for Hardcore Criminals ) . Deficit spending is a D.C. created disease .
    Why do I have to balance my check book and D.C. doesn't ?
    Why are we buying groceries for other Nations (that hate us) when our refrigerators are empty ?

    • Lucifer Dye

      I was watching a panel on Israel today on C-SPAN in which it was said that we give $3 billion each year in military aid to Israel. Can anybody explain why we do this? I wonder how much this "aid" has added up to in the more than sixty years of Israel's establishment.

  • Michael Canzano

    Barack Hussain Obama may be a reincarnation of either Stalin , Mao or Saul Alinsky .

    • Lucifer Dye

      Pres. Obama is nothing like Saul Alinsky. You have to stop listening to that fat slug Gingrich and do a little reading for yourself, Michael. As for Obama being a reincarnation of Stalin and Mao, come on, guy, give us a break. That's just too fatuous for words.

  • Michael Canzano

    The Donkeys will spend us into oblivian and then retire to their European mansions .