The path to sidestepping the painful package of automatic across-the-board cuts, however, was rocky at best. (And that is somewhat offensive to all rocky paths out there.) Of course, out of unhappiness -- or at least heavy public scrutiny of partisan rancor -- come political lessons.
As the fiscal cliff process wore on (and on), we jotted down a few of our own observations about what we learned from the fight. They're below. What did you learn?
* Congress can't do big things: The debt ceiling fight of 2011 and the fiscal cliff fight of 2012 both started with the best of intentions: Each would be the moment where politicians spoke hard truths to their constituents, slaughtered their respective sacred cows and set the country back on sound financial footing. Big challenges loomed and Congress not only knew it but was up to the task. Or not. What the fiscal cliff taught us -- or re-taught us -- is that through a combination of gerrymandering and lack of political leadership there is simply no real desire for compromise in Congress. Sure, members of both sides talk about how they want a deal but when it comes to specific sacrifices that must be made to make said deal happen, they aren't interested. That reality bodes very poorly for the coming fight on the debt ceiling/automatic cuts in late February.
* Republicans don't have a leader or even a chief strategist: We've written post-election about how bereft the GOP is at the moment of well-known and visionary national leaders. That vacuum was on full display during these cliff talks where Speaker John Boehner proved unable to deliver on the promises/threats he made -- a weakness that effectively sidelined him in the negotiation's final days. Mitt Romney was nonexistent. Jeb Bush offered little in the way of guidance for the party. Marco Rubio only made news on the cliff when he voted against the legislation (more on that later.) The de facto head of the GOP now appears to be Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who gets credit for making a deal happen. But McConnell is far from the sort of telegenic (or warm and fuzzy) presence that the party needs front and center to battle President Obama. And he is in a re-election race himself, focusing plenty of his time on Kentucky. The party simply lacks a cohesive message or a convincing messenger to deliver it, and that's trouble.
* Joe Biden is relevant: For much of 2012, Republicans rolled their eyes at the possibility of the vice president running for the top office in 2016, insisting that he was nothing more than a gaffe-machine who could never withstand the scrutiny of a national race. But, Biden sent a strong message to his doubters over the past five days -- not only cutting the final deal with McConnell but using the power of his personality (and his long relationships) to sell the deal to Democrats on the Hill. Yes, it's inside baseball but Biden showed that he knows the right buttons to push in Congress perhaps even better than his boss and that counts for something when it comes to evaluating the insider buzz relating to 2016.
* Marco Rubio is running for president: There wasn't much doubt -- at least in the Fix mind -- that the Florida Senator was moving toward a run for president in 2016. After his "no" vote on the fiscal cliff deal -- he was one of eight Senators to oppose the compromise -- we are more certain than ever about his intentions. "This deal just postpones the inevitable, the need to solve our growing debt crisis and help the 23 million Americans who can't find the work they need," Rubio said by way of explanation. And, we are sure that's what he truly believes. But, this vote was also about shoring up support among the most fiscally conservative wing of the party and ensuring that no one else who is likely to be in the field -- Rand Paul, anyone? -- can get to his right on taxes and spending.
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