As the December 31 deadline draws nearer and with President Barack Obama firmly in the driver's seat for another four years, it seems that even Republican lawmakers are predicting they will forge a deal with administration on the year end "fiscal cliff." That is merely an illusion, a feint, a tactical sleight of hand to once again deceive a gullible public into thinking the GOP is interested in good governance; in the advancement of the entire country, and not just benefiting their party.
At the same time, a top aide to the president has signaled apparent White House willingness to compromise over raising tax rates on the rich. That's exactly what I'm worried about. This president has a history of making concessions, even before demands are made of him, and any concession, any concession at all on the so-called fiscal cliff, without an agreement from the Tea Party-Republicans to simultaneously approve an increase in the debt ceiling will spell lasting defeat, sooner than later for the president.
Despite conservative howls and complaints, President Obama won an absolute landslide on Nov. 6. He won 322 electoral votes, 126 more than his GOP opponent; he won 3 million more popular votes; and he won a majority in 27 of the 50 states. That was not a narrow or slim victory. That was a landslide.
That victory may not necessarily constitute a mandate for everything President Obama wants politically, but even if he hadn't won re-election, he would be in control as far as the negotiations about resolving the fiscal cliff are concerned, because the legislation already agreed to and passed by Congress is set to go into effect at the end of this year, before the next term is set to begin and before the new Congress is sworn into office.
Then, within weeks, if nothing is done before then, the new Congress will have to approve an extension of the debt ceiling – the country's authority to borrow money on the "good faith and credit of the United States." If Congress fails to raise the limit, the U.S. will default on its obligations and economic chaos, even worse than the effects of the fiscal cliff will ensue.
Economist Paul Krugman, professor of Economics and International Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University asked a rhetorical question: "How far should President Obama go in accommodating the G.O.P.'s demands" concerning the fiscal cliff?
"My answer is, not far at all," Krugman wrote in The New York Times. "Mr. Obama should hang tough, declaring himself willing, if necessary, to hold his ground even at the cost of letting his opponents inflict damage on a still shaky economy. And this is definitely no time to negotiate a 'grand bargain' on the budget that snatches defeat from the jaws of victory."
A stalemate, Krugman argues "would hurt Republican backers, corporate donors in particular, every bit as much as it hurt the rest of the country. As the risk of severe economic damage grew, Republicans would face intense pressure to cut a deal after all." In other words, the president can win, without doing anything. He does not have to give an inch. Not an inch!
"So stand your ground, Mr. President, and don't give in to threats. No deal is better than a bad deal," says Krugman. I agree.
But we all know the president is an accommodating fellow when it comes to dealing with the tough-as-nails Republicans. When dealing with recalcitrant Republican lawmakers, this president seems to have a gift for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
In the past, even when the administration has bent over backwards to reach a compromise, House Speaker John Boehner [R-Ohio] – fearing the hot breath of extremist Rep. Eric Cantor [R-Va.] who is ostensibly his second in command breathing down his neck – Boehner has pulled out, even probably when he wanted to cut a deal with the president and be done with it all.
So while all the attention now is on the fiscal cliff where the president has all the leverage, in just a few short weeks into 2013, the debt ceiling crisis will again rear its ugly head, and unless the president brings the GOP to heel now in these negotiations, they will have him over the proverbial barrel by February.
So, I say, as Krugman has said: "stand your ground, Mr. President, and don't give in to threats. No deal is better than a bad deal." Let's go over the fiscal cliff if necessary, but don't surrender your political capital to those who want to bury you in it.