Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) won’t allow a vote on the president’s proposal to resolve the “fiscal cliff.” Senate Democrats are mortified that someone might ask their opinion, even ask them to cast a vote (mercy me!), on the biggest domestic issue we face.
Right-wing Republicans (who apparently never even skimmed Bob Woodward’s “The Price of Politics”) are furious House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) offered $800 billion in new revenue via tax reform, which he did in the summer of 2011. The Post reports other Republicans are “urging House leaders to abandon their staunch opposition to higher tax rates for the wealthy with the aim of clearing the way for a broad deal that would also rein in the cost of federal health and retirement programs.” (Anyone think the president will make substantial cuts in entitlements? Nope, me neither.)
Republicans take solace, I guess, in the notion that “while Americans see tax bills going up an average of nearly $3,500—then Republicans won’t escape blame but neither will the president. The damage to him may be long-lasting.” (Somehow I don’t feel better knowing that.)
Maybe the House will pass two bills, it is suggested: “One, supported primarily by Republicans, would extend the expiring low tax rates for all households, including the rich. The second, supported primarily by Democrats, would extend the current low rates only on income less than $250,000 a year, allowing rates for the wealthy to increase. Both measures would go to the Democratic-controlled Senate, which would then pass only the Democratic bill.” No, no. I’ve got it. Everyone does nothing, points fingers, allows the most inane form of spending restraint (across the board, not touching entitlements) and tax hikes for everyone (which then members can vote to reduce in part next year, thus not breaking their “no tax hike” pledge).
If you are getting the sense there is no one with sense inside the Beltway, you’re getting warm. The reason everyone is spinning and spinning out of control is that the country can’t be governed without an executive who is both adept at and motivated to lead. No matter how responsible or irresponsible the Congress is, in a complex set of negotiations with almost infinite permutations of a deal, competing interests and inflamed partisans, there is only one person with the stature to force both sides to a deal. But this president seems unwilling to ask anything of his side and determined to set up a series of no-win situations for his opponents, whom he treats not as political rivals to be bargained with but enemies to be vanquished.
Chance of going over the fiscal cliff? On a scale of zero to 10, 10 being certainty that we are all going to take the plunge, I think we’re at 9. And maybe this is for the best.
Once the damage is done, then perhaps the parties can work back to budgeting ( the Senate could even pass one!), modest entitlement reform and real tax reform. Once the president’s “leverage” is gone, that is, we go over the cliff, he might actually have to deal with Congress. I don’t like that prospect, but the alternative is looking worse.
It is not the increase in rates for the rich in President Obama’s plan that is most disturbing, although certainly that might tip us into recession. It is not even the mammoth defense cuts (this president isn’t sending our military anywhere anyway). It is that the parties will yet again failed to have taken the bull by the horns, worked on the drivers of the debt and reformed entitlement programs to survive into the 21st country without consuming our entire budget and/or sinking the economy. Maybe we’ll muddle through for a while, but given the fiscal uncertainty, our economy isn’t likely to take off and unemployment will remain high. Obama may get his wish — a shrunken military, a less-influential America on the world stage and many people deeply grateful to the federal government (because they can find no livelihood in the private sector). Welcome to the totally unexceptional America.