Every lobbyist in Washington knows that whoever can advocate that the government do nothing or defer a matter until later has the advantage. Never underestimate the ability of the government to do nothing.
Keep this in mind as the negotiations for avoiding the “fiscal cliff” unfold, especially since "do nothing" has a powerful ally in Congress. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) is the unapologetic leader of the do-nothing forces, and as the incoming chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, she is in a good position to stop any action. The liberals have valid reasons for wanting the tax increases and the automatic cuts to defense spending to proceed unabated. The recession and additional dependency that would follow would produce a government and a society that is more to their liking anyway.
As an added bonus for Democrats, it looks like the public is willing to mostly blame the Republicans. A Pew poll found that 53 percent of Americans would blame the Republicans in Congress if the two sides cannot reach an agreement, while only 29 percent would blame the president. Republican leaders haven't convinced even the rank and file of our own party that our leaders in Washington aren't the problem.
Anecdotally, in talking to people from around the country over the holiday, I did not get a sense of worry or urgency about the fiscal cliff. Most people I spoke with know that it is looming, but few have an idea of what it might mean to them — or to the larger economy — if Washington doesn't take action. Informed Republican regulars mostly shrug at the idea of their taxes going up. They are deflated by the election results and appear ready to accept what they think is inevitable.
As I said last week, if the coming debate is about Republicans and taxes, then we lose politically. If we cave on taxes and the debate becomes consumed by what budget cuts the Republicans want to make and the programs the Democrats want to defend, we lose politically and no good policy is created. So far, the focus of the discussion in the media is mostly about Republicans and taxes, not about entitlements and spending restraint.
An unalarmed public, a wounded GOP, a media obsessed with Republicans and taxes and the Democrats sitting in the favored position of "winning" if Washington does nothing all combine to give the president and his team a big advantage.