The danger of overplaying one’s strong hand.
I don’t think anyone doubts that Obama has superior bargaining power on the “fiscal cliff.”
Part of that power comes from a superior messaging machine which bizarrely has convinced the public that Republicans are holding “middle class” (including people making low six figures) “tax cuts” (which are not tax cuts, but a continuation of rates in effect for a decade) hostage, when in fact it is Obama holding those middle class tax cuts hostage to his desire to punish the “rich” (who are not actually rich in most cases, just successful professionals and small business owners).
Part of that power comes from an entirely ineffective Republican messaging machine.
Every time I punish myself by watching a Democrat being interviewed, that Democrat pounds the stuffing out of Republicans in the most accusatory class warfare terms. The uniformity is amazing.
Every time I punish myself by watching a Republican being interviewed, that Republican (not uniformly, but frequently) whimpers about the need for compromise and finding common ground.
By all appearances, Obama holds the cards and owns the streets.
Obama’s strategy is to “slow walk” the negotiations until we are at the supposed cliff:
Democrats did not do much on Wednesday, adopting a deliberate strategy to slow-walk Republicans to the edge of the fiscal cliff in a belief that mounting pressure from within the GOP will force conservatives to fold on tax hikes.
Their aim is to string out the negotiations to give Republicans space to wrap their heads around the idea of raising tax rates on the rich. So far, each passing day seems to add another GOP voice to the chorus coming around on tax hikes.
“We’re all in a holding pattern here waiting to see if the Republicans will come to their senses and negotiate on tax rates,” said Democratic Rep. Gerald Connolly.
“Our basic strategy is to let them sweat it out,” said a top Senate Democratic leadership aide. “We don’t necessarily have to do anything.”
Obama is so emboldened, he even is demanding unilateral power to raise the national debt.
But there is every indication Obama is overplaying his strong hand. Richard Brodsky of the ultra-liberal Demos foundation sees the danger most Obama-cheerleaders don’t see:
But the 800 pound, the-country-needs-a-deal gorilla in the room can smack Obama just as hard. It matters that the country sees who really wants to reduce spending on needed and popular government initiatives. The Republican counteroffer is as unserious as Obama’s original, which is part of the positioning for the eventual fistfight over what is enacted. But if a deal is going to get done, Obama will at some point, holding his nose, have to agree to those very cuts. And then deliver the votes on his side. It’s not easy moving energized Dems back into the position of responsible compromisers.
If he can’t, then the failure that sends us hurtling over the fiscal cliff will be wholly owned by Obama. And that’s no way to start your second term.
Tim Geitner says that Obama “absolutely” is willing to go off the cliff if Republicans do not agree to higher tax rates (not just higher revenue):
Obama may just get what he claims he “absolutely” is willing to do. And if the results are as disastrous as some (but not all) predict, there is no predicting how it plays out.
Obama’s overreach on Obamacare in 2009-2010 gave rise to a blow out of Democrats in November 2010. Democrats have convinced themselves that the opposite will happen with the fiscal cliff.
That’s a chance Republicans may be willing to take if the only alternative is Obama spiking the football on their heads.