Now that the Republicans in the House have stopped playing games with the economy and allowed passage of the fiscal-cliff compromise, we can all stop worrying about how firmly President Obama will stand on his principles and just how irresponsibly the Republican caucus will behave to appease its most right-wing members.
And once we’ve caught our breath we can start worrying about how firmly Mr. Obama will stand on his principles just how irresponsibly the Republican caucus will behave to appease its most right-wing members.
Because the next fight is already taking shape over taxing and spending.
Mr. Obama, having backed away from his campaign red line – he said he would preserve tax cuts only for middle incomes and below while making everyone else pay a bigger share – has now drawn two more red lines.
The first is that Congress has to match spending cuts with revenue increases. The second is that he will not take part in another manufactured crisis over the debt ceiling. “While I will negotiate over many things,” Mr. Obama said, “I will not have another debate with this Congress over whether or not they should pay the bills they’ve already racked up through the laws they have passed.”
The president has significantly less leverage on these matters than he did on the Bush tax cuts (since they were set to expire). So it seems wildly improbable that he’ll stay true to his word.
Meanwhile, the Republican caucus is out of control—not just metaphorically but actually out of the control of its purported leader, John Boehner. It’s never been entirely clear whether Mr. Boehner negotiates in bad faith with Mr. Obama (evidence includes the fact that he tried to double-cross the White House with his “Plan B”), or whether he means well and can’t deliver (evidence includes the fact that he couldn’t get his own caucus to agree to his “Plan B”).
Ultimately he did manage to get the fiscal-cliff compromise through the House. He and 84 other Republicans voted for it. But most Republicans (151) did not. The naysayers included House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who publicly denounced the deal his party made with the White House.
What’s truly maddening is that, as both Jennifer Rubin, writing from the right, and Greg Sargeant, writing from the left, pointed out this morning, the Republicans should have been happy with the deal. Not only did they extend most of the Bush tax cuts, they made them permanent. And they held back increases in the estate tax.
And while they didn’t achieve cuts in entitlement programs, they’ll soon have the opportunity to hold the country hostage over the debt ceiling, at which point they can demand reckless and economy-wounding cuts in government spending.
Anyone looking for a quick encapsulation of Washington’s low, degraded state should look no further than Politico’s behind-the-scenes recap of the negotiations that led to the anti-Grand Bargain (the petty bargain?). In one particularly tense moment, Harry Reid accused Mr. Boehner of running a “dictatorship” in the House, and Mr. Boehner— just a few steps from the Oval Office—responded with an obscenity not fit for publication in a family newspaper.