Relax, it’s not even December

There was a great deal of huffing, puffing and even laughing (by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell at Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner) over the president’s ludicrous offer of  “a $1.6 trillion tax increase, $50 billion in infrastructure spending in 2013 and new power to raise the federal debt limit, a provocative set of demands that Republicans said represented a step backward in efforts to avoid looming tax increases and spending cuts,” as the Wall Street Journal reported.

Well, take a deep breath. It’s “only” Nov. 30. Seriously, that means it is way too early to tell if President Obama is putting on a show for his base or if he’s really got his head in the clouds, ready to send the country over the fiscal cliff.

The former explanation is possible but risky. Sure, House Speaker John Boehner can honestly tell his troops how unreasonable the president is, and Democratic pundits can throw a ticker-tape parade for more stimulus. (But really, if more than $800 billion didn’t work, does anyone think a $50 billion redux in a $15 trillion economy will have any impact?) The risk is either that the left becomes stuck in an unrealistic set of expectations or that the right gives up. A senior Senate Republican adviser had this take: “I think he is trying to buck up his troops. But this silly offer today was a waste of everyone’s time. We have a deadline, and every day they waste is a day we’re not solving the problem.”

The bigger concern is that Obama actually thinks he can get a deal like this or, alternatively, that going over the cliff isn’t so bad since he can raise taxes and slash defense by doing nothing (or, as the case may be, going to Hawaii).

For now the Republican leadership is expressing frustration but keeping its head. A Republican plugged into the House leadership figuratively shrugs his shoulders, telling me that Obama is doling out “base catnip, but this hurts the process more than anything.” Indeed, while three weeks is an eternity in Congress-time, a deal of this magnitude takes time to haggle out, draft, go through procedural motions, get done and redone, deal with holdouts and finally get passed. A House leadership aide bemoans: “Why waste time when the clock is ticking?” Good question. The media should ask the president.

 

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