With the election having come and gone, the political world's attention now shifts to the next major national development: avoiding the looming "fiscal cliff." The White House and Congress fully intend to strike some kind of compromise, but they're very far apart and have limited time to craft a deal.
For Democrats, finding agreement on a debt-reduction agreement isn't that difficult. After all, if President Obama has a clear mandate on any issue, it's modest tax increases on the wealthy -- he campaigned on the issue, making it one of his signature policies. Republicans tried to use it against him, but they failed, and polls show most Americans support the idea.
So what's the problem? The Republican position has not changed: no tax increases on anyone, at any time, by any amount, for any reason. I found the New York Times' reporting on this to be a little misleading.
The House speaker, John A. Boehner of Ohio, striking a conciliatory tone a day after the Republican Party's electoral drubbing, said on Wednesday that he was ready to accept a budget deal that raises federal revenue as long as it is linked to an overhaul of entitlements and a reform of the tax code that closes loopholes, curtails or eliminates deductions and lowers income tax rates. [...]
The offer may be enough to bring the parties to the table in the wake of an election that kept President Obama in power, strengthened the Democrats' grip on the Senate and chipped away at the still-large Republican majority in the House.
This wasn't Boehner being conciliatory; this was largely the opposite. Remember in "Godfather II," when Michael says, "My offer is this: nothing"? That's pretty much what the House Speaker was saying yesterday.
Indeed, what's striking is how little movement there's been from Boehner, despite Obama's re-election, despite the looming deadline, and despite Wall Street's reaction yesterday to the possibility that there would be no agreement.
In Boehner's idea of a "deal," Republicans would agree to close some unnamed tax loopholes and end some unnamed deductions, but only if Democrats give them entitlement cuts and more tax breaks through tax "reform."
Boehner realizes that Romney lost, right?
Kevin Drum makes a persuasive case that the Speaker's opening bid won't last.
[It's] bluster and Boehner knows it. On January 1st, the Bush tax cuts expire. They're gone. At that point, Boehner & Co. can agree to a deal that lowers taxes for everyone on all income under $250,000, or they can hold out for a deal that lowers taxes for everyone and lowers taxes on income over $250,000 back to Bush-era levels. However, if they refuse to make a deal, then no one gets a tax cut, and they'll be crucified by public opinion for protecting the rich.
I suspect that's probably right -- Obama has the better hand and he knows it -- and Boehner's remarks yesterday were just posturing. The fact that the president campaigned on higher taxes for the wealthy, and the public broadly supports higher taxes on the wealthy, matters in the equation. Matt Yglesias noted it's possible "the president is playing poker with idiots," but I hope that's not the case.
But at a minimum, as the talks proceed, it'll help if the media understands what is and isn't "conciliatory." Congressional Republicans, as of yesterday, haven't changed their position at all in over a year, and still expect Democrats to give them entitlement cuts and income-tax breaks in exchange for very little.