Monthly Archives: December 2012

Why Congress Will Take Us Over The Cliff (And Other Depressing Predictions)

079 Capitol Hill United States Congress 1993

079 Capitol Hill United States Congress 1993 (Photo credit: David Holt London)

Before the year ends, I decided to go on record about how I think Congress will deal with the so-called “fiscal cliff”. I do this in hopes that they might prove me wrong. I would love to be pleasantly surprised.

Congress will send us over the cliff.

I do not believe that Congress will be able to pass any legislation that could be described as a tax increase. The Republicans will not allow themselves to vote for such. Memories are long about how the elder George H. W. Bush raised taxes despite having pledged not to (in his famous “read my lips” declaration), and he never recovered among conservatives. Every Republican must court the conservatives because their party has alienated every other group; they have no one left.

On January 1, the Bush tax cuts expire, so this means that tomorrow there will be an income tax increase for everyone who pays income taxes. The negotiations will suddenly switch from increasing taxes to lowering taxes. Republicans love to be able to claim credit for lowering taxes, so their attitude about passing legislation to solve the fiscal cliff will change dramatically at that point.

Similarly, but to a lesser degree, Democrats will more comfortably vote for legislation after the New Year. Just as taxes go up tomorrow, spending cuts take effect as well. A vote today for a Democrat means cutting a program, but tomorrow it will mean restoring a program.

So for both parties, a deal today looks bad politically because in a few years their opponent will be able to use the deal to attack them among their base. This is one reason, I believe, that John Boehner and the House yielded their constitutional duty to originate laws concerning the budget over to the Senate. If an ugly deal was going to happen, they wanted to make sure that it was the Democratic Senate that could be blamed.

Despite the fact that conventional wisdom is that the Democrats have the upper hand, I fear they will give up more than the Republicans in the compromise. First of all, I believe Obama and the Democrats are less willing to hurt people in order to achieve their political aims. If I’m right, Democrats will feel the pain of regular Americans more than Republicans. They will be more desperate to find a solution, and we have already seen the Republicans take advantage of this dynamic.

Second, I think Republicans are more afraid of their Tea Party base than Democrats are of their progressive base. Republicans will be more stubborn about pleasing their base than the Democrats. Third, Obama and the Democrats are already making more noises about compromises that they would be willing to make. So I fear that we are already seeing the conversation shift in the Republican’s favor.

By the middle of January, I believe that we will see a deal that gives more to the Tea Party than to the progressives. Naturally both sides will declare victory, but I believe that people will be crying about how Obama got outsmarted again. I believe that Obama’s favorability ratings will decline: his supporters will be unhappy with his negotiations, and those in the middle will see him as weak. The deal will avoid disaster, but it will not help the economy. It may not derail the recovery, but it will slow it down.

If I’m right, then it probably means that we will have another fight very soon about raising the debt limit, and unless Obama wins this fiscal cliff negotiation, then it will likely be another repeat of the mess we’ve already seen.

As I said, I’d love to be proven wrong. My version of the future is too depressing.

The GOP’s Response to Defeat Exposes Their Short Game

Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney (Photo credit: Dave Delay)

Both George Will and Glenn Beck told us that Romney was going to win the election with 321 electoral votes. Karl Rove told us that Romney would win with at least 279 electoral votes. Dick Morris said Romney’s total would be 325. Ann Coulter‘s number for Romney was 273. Newt Gingrich promised that Romney would get at least 300. Gingrich, Rove, Morris, and Pat Buchanan promised their followers that the Republicans would win back the Senate.

Despite what these Republicans predicted, Obama won 332 electoral votes to Romney’s 206, and the Democrats made gains in both the House and Senate. Any way you cut it, election night was not good news for Republicans. On the morning after, there was much hand-wringing over what the GOP must do to be able to start winning again.

At the very least, I expected to see the Republicans begin to acknowledge that their mandate from 2010 was over. I expected to see them soften some of there opposition and begin moving back to the center. After all they no longer are in a position of strength politically. Demographics have turned, and the GOP cannot survive as the party of old white men for very much longer, right?

What I’ve seen instead has been a rush to double down on the policies that made them losers in 2012. In states where the Republicans have majorities, they have been hurriedly passing laws against unions, immigrants, gay marriage, and abortion. At first I didn’t understand this. Were these people not paying attention? It is easy to imagine that one’s political opponents are idiots, but that is never the case.

My best guess at this point is that precisely because Republicans see that history is not on their side and demographics will make it more and more difficult for them to maintain their power, they are rushing to enshrine as much of their reactionary policies into law as they can before they lose that power. The more laws and state constitutional amendments they can pass banning everything they don’t like, the longer it will take for progressives to unwind their policies. The more they injure labor unions and restrict voting, the more they can privilege their own political strength and delay their eventual defeat. Rather than trying to “evolve” into an opposition party with compelling ideas for the 21st century, they are playing the short game of trying to use their current power to circumvent the will of the American people for as long as possible. The GOP seems to have lost the concept that once elected, politicians are supposed to represent all of their constituents while they are in office.

Few Republicans have much use for John Maynard Keynes, but I think they are embracing one of his famous quotes: “In the long run we are all dead.” Republicans don’t seem to have any interest in playing the long game here, after all most of their current base will be long gone by the time the Democrats can turn back their policies.