Republicans seemed outraged that Americans have not awakened to Barack Obama's failure to take responsibility for reducing our debt. While Obama should be vulnerable on this issue, his weakness is mitigated by the Republicans’ failure to put forward a credible alternative. You simply cannot say, as Republicans have done, that the debt is the No. 1 problem facing our economy if you are not prepared to accept any tax increase of any kind. You can pretend the Ryan plan is serious if you want; it doesn't contain any tax increases. But it guts — not just cuts — programs that this nation needs: education, research investments, infrastructure. It will never survive politically, nor should it.
The calamity is coming, we are warned. But the politics of the impending debt fight will be very different if Obama is reelected. Unlike the debt-ceiling fight where Republicans had no political incentive to give him a deal, this time Obama will hold the cards. There are two policy fights that will begin the day after the election. The first, sequestration, is the mechanism to force cuts in the debt if Congress and the president cannot make a deal. It automatically cuts spending, disproportionately hitting defense. The second is the automatic expiration of the Bush tax cuts and the reductions in payroll taxes. If Republicans refuse to negotiate with Obama, he can simply say, "Fine, let sequestration and tax increases take effect." Republicans then have to accept tax increases and cuts in defense, one of their most important constituencies.
Many people think it will never come to this because the consequences of this auto-pilot scenario will hurt our economy. But I am taking a position not on the policy, but the politics. And here Obama will have the upper hand to finally bring Republicans to the table or force them to drink a double shot of hemlock.