President Obama has won re-election, but conservatives in Washington aren't sounding too chastened. They say last night was an undeniable victory for the House GOP, which held onto its majority, and still expect Republicans to dig their heels on taxes over the fiscal cliff.
"From what I'm hearing, the Republicans in the House who had this historic election two years ago basically had a confirmation of that," said Kevin Hassett of the American Enterprise Institute, a Romney campaign adviser. "There's been very little change. After you have a really, really big win, to not give something back…people in the House think the election was a big success for them. That would provide them some confidence."
Grover Norquist, who's led the anti-tax movement on the right, similarly hailed the election as a victory and affirmation of Paul Ryan's approach toward taxes and the budget. "Last night voters confirmed the status quo of the 2010 election which brought a strong, united Republican majority in the House and enough Republican senators to filibuster any particular piece of legislation," Norquist said in a statement Wednesday morning. "This election showed Republicans in the House the 'Path to Prosperity' authored by Paul Ryan was not simply sound on principle, but a political advantage. They have an agenda. They voted for it. They won re-election."
Most immediately, that would suggest that House Republicans will be unwilling to cave to Democrats on taxes in the fiscal cliff debate. Moreover, they dispute the notion that Obama won a mandate from the American people to push forward his agenda on taxes and the budget, insisting that he won by political scare tactics rather than specific policy proposals.
"I don't think the Obama victory is a policy victory...In the end what mattered was that it was about Bain and frightening people that Romney is an evil capitalist," Hassett said. "I don't think that the fact that Obama defeated Romney is going to matter to [Speaker of the House John] Boehner. "
Some Democrats are inclined to agree. "The House becomes the last bastion. They hold even tighter onto what they want to do than before," said Stan Collender, a former Congressional budget staffer. "They're going to say they lost because of the rape issues as opposed to the fiscal issues."
What does this mean for the fiscal cliff debate ahead? Both liberals and conservatives expect Obama and Democrats to dig in their heels as well: Obama campaigned on raising taxes on those with incomes over $250,000. House Republicans aren't willing to cave on taxes, and Obama and Democrats won't budge either. "Neither side is going to see any reason to relent. Both sides have reason to stick their positions," said Curtis Dubay, senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation.
If there is such a standoff, some analysts believe that it's more likely that we'll end up going off the fiscal cliff—one that Democrats will blame on recalcitrant Republicans and vice versa. "You're asking people to compromise on things in four weeks they haven't been able to compromise on in four years," Collender said. "The most likely outcome is let the cliff happen."