Thursday, 3 January 2013

Cliff post-mortem

It’s fairly easy to put together a case that Obama played John Boehner and the Republicans like a harp and got a favorable deal by splitting off the Tea Party crazies from everyone else. But that assessment obscures the enormously favorable hand Obama was holding and the fairly weak deal he ended up with. The final terms only look decent by comparison with the ongoing demand from the wacko brigades that we members of the 99% should be out building pyramids, then die.

It is by no means clear that they will be frustrated in this goal.

A lengthy play-by-play of the negotiations in Politico describes how Boehner tried to put together a consensus settlement under the old Washington rules of give and take because Boehner, unlike his hooting and cawing GOP majority, saw that the automatic expiration written into the Bush tax cuts meant Obama could do nothing and win. Everyone’s taxes would shoot up, the federal government would be facing administrative hell, and the Republicans would get the blame. So Boehner entered discussions looking with which to sell his base on the inevitable tax rises on the rich that was central to Obama’s re-election.

But that howling hound dog GOP base is so fanaticized that it couldn’t see that Obama was handing them the farm if they would just effing take it. In exchange for a tax rise for people earning a half million a year (let’s call it ‘middle-class creep’), they would get to nail down the government-strangling Bush cuts on everyone else forever. Our last chance to get tax revenues back to where they were under Clinton is now gone for good.

In exchange, none of the nightmarish trial balloons floating during the talks and accompanying media war—cuts to Medicare, extending the retirement age, ‘chain-linking’ Social Security inflation adjustments—were included for now, and thus we got past the stupid poison pills involved in the ‘fiscal cliff’ without much immediate damage. Which is not to say these ‘suggestions’ won’t be back—Obama keeps saying they will be.

Therefore, Obama gave away his strong position and ended up with a weak one. The next round of negotiations will be on the federal debt limit, and there the House majority has shown its determination to claw back concessions, starting with ‘entitlements’, which means anything benefiting people who don’t own a Lear jet.

On a side note, it was amusing and appropriate to see Peter King (notorious Long Island racist) and NJ governor Christie go completely batshit over the delays in Hurricane Sandy relief money and lay into their fellow Repubs. Interesting that no one is suggesting ‘means testing’ benefits for people who lost their vacation homes to a natural disaster even though the logic is exactly the same for that kind of insurance as for Social Security and Medicare.

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