Taxing the rich is popular. Cutting Medicare is very unpopular. So Obama can win the fiscal cliff standoff by taking his case to the American people, which he is now poised to do. Right? Maybe not.
A new Post poll out this morning confirms again that the public is on the side of Obama and Dems in this battle. Sixty percent of Americans favor raising taxes on incomes over $250,000. Sixty three percent of independents, 65 percent of moderates, and even 47 percent of conservatives, agree. By contrast, 67 percent of Americans oppose raising the Medicare eligibility age — as do 68 percent of Republicans and 68 percent of conservatives. And a plurality opposes reducing deductions — the preferred GOP approach.
There is a widespread consensus that higher taxes on the rich must be part of any deficit solution, and that the core mission of major social programs and the safety net — and the social contract underlying them — should be left untouched for beneficiaries. Does this matter?
One of the major battles of the 2012 campaign occurred when Obama claimed he had learned that “you can’t change Washington from the inside.” Republicans attacked this as an admission of failure. Obama was merely saying that in his second term he’d do more to engage more Americans in the political process to push Congress to enact his agenda.
That dust-up is worth recalling in the present context: We’re now about to see whether Obama can make good on that promise.
Obama is launching a major P.R. effort to push Republicans to extend the middle class tax cuts and to drop their opposition to hiking tax rates on the rich. But there is some reason for skepticism that a public campaign will make a real difference to Republicans. House GOPers mainly care about their districts and many were elected by safe margins.
But today’s Post poll reminds us that a public campaign remains a good idea anyway. It can reinforce the popularity of Obama’s agenda. It may enable him to avoid a key mistake of his first term: Not achieving enough separation from Congress. During the health care wars he got mired in Congressional process, which bolstered the GOP case that he failed to change Washington — and fed public skepticism about the policies themselves. Obama is now in a stronger position to play an “outside game.” It’s a key test of one of his major promises.
* Republican admits Dems have leverage in tax debate: In another big development this morning, Rep. Tom Cole is privately urging fellow Republicans to acquiesce to Dems and extend the Bush tax cuts for the middle class — then fight over the high end ones. Cole admits:
“Some people think that’s our leverage in the debate. It’s the Democrats’ leverage in the debate.”
This matters: Cole doesn’t typically break from GOP orthodoxy; it may mean GOPers really are coming to terms with who has the leverage here.
* Dems cheered by Obama’s strategy: With the president hitting the road with campaign-style events to pressure Republicans on the fiscal cliff talks, this reaction from fellow Dems is key:
Democrats hailed the strategy as evidence that the president had learned from past mistakes in not galvanizing public opinion behind his most important initiatives on health care and previous fiscal standoffs.
Also: a public campaign can serve the purpose of keeping the Dem base engaged after the election.
* White House acting like it has upper hand: As Alexis Simendinger reports, the key tell is that Obama and the White House, in taking their case to the American people, are behaving as if they are certain to win the standoff over the fiscal cliff. Simendinger also reports that leading Dems are fully convinced Obama won’t sign any deal that doesn’t hike tax rates on top earners.
As I reported yesterday, labor and progressive leaders who are highly attuned to signs of a cave also feel very good about what they’re hearing.
* But are Dems divided over entitlement cuts? Republicans are circulating an Associated Press story reporting that centrist Democrats are saying that Medicare and Medicaid cuts must be on the table in the fiscal cliff talks. However, the real argument is over whether cuts should hit beneficiaries, and it remains far from clear that there are any meaningful divisions among Democrats on that question.
* Nancy Pelosi’s role in the fiscal talks: Relatedly, Mike Lillis has an interesting look at the role Nancy Pelosi is trying to carve out for herself by urging the White House not to rerun the mistakes of 2011 and cut House Democrats out of the fiscal negotiations. Pelosi’s main role — if she is able to play it — will be to prevent the White House from giving any ground when it comes to cuts that impact Medicare beneficiaries.
* The right way to tackle Medicare and Medicaid: Jonathan Cohn has a useful overview of the problems facing Medicare and Medicaid — and why it would be folly to cut benefits deeply in the name of deficit reduction. Cohn notes that we should instead focus on controlling costs — giving Obamacare a chance to work in this regard, and considering other liberal cost-controlling policies as well — because deep benefits cuts will, you know, actually hurt lots of people.
* Will business leaders cooperate with the president? Something else to watch today: Business leaders are set to sit down with the President, in an effort by Obama to repair relations with the business community. Business groups poured massive sums of money into defeating Obama, but they made the wrong bet, so it remains to be seen whether they will be more cooperative with Dems and back off all the complaining that Obama is “anti-business.”
Another question: How actively will business leaders pressure Republicans to make a deal on both the fiscal cliff and the debt ceiling?
* And today’s silly GOP talking point on taxes: Josh Hicks does a nice job unmasking the absurdity of a leading GOP claim: That raising taxes on the rich will only fund the government for a week. In reality, the Dem tax hike proposals would bring in nearly $1 trillion, which is why experts keep saying that raising rates — rather than only closing loopholes — is the way to make the numbers work.