If the looming fiscal cliff weren’t so deadly serious, this would be a great time to be a Democratic political observer. Not only did President Obama win a second term last month in a landmark election that demonstrated the increasingly fringe nature of the Republican party platform (though GOP operatives would rather blame the voting public for its “freeloading” or barring that, hold their collective breath until their faces turn blue before admitting this reality), but the reinvigorated POTUS was handed the immediate opportunity to demonstrate his leadership. The long-deferred fiscal cliff crisis, a series of automatic tax increases and spending cuts set to begin on January 1, 2013 in lieu of a balanced, forward-looking budget agreement that both parties can accept, stands to clarify that one-half of our two-party system is so out-of-touch, they risk becoming a permanent minority.
GOP lawmakers are in this predicament because they are now seeking compromise with a President firmly entrenched in a “fool me once, shame on you…” mentality. After performing acts of contortion in summer 2011 to secure a “Grand Bargain” with Republican House leaders during the manufactured debt ceiling crisis, the POTUS was rebuffed and humiliated by Speaker John Boehner’s failure to corral the Tea Party extremists which now dominate the lower chamber of Congress. At that time Obama offered what many average Americans would consider some rather austere spending cuts in exchange for raised revenues that would return tax rates to Clinton-era levels for the top two percent of wealthy residents. We all know how that turned out. Republicans rejected the deal, Obama grew red faced and the United States’ credit rating was reduced to AA+ by Standard & Poor’s (S&P), from a long-held AAA.
This time, rather than report to Capitol Hill with his hat in his hands, Obama has taken the offensive position. By asking just one simple question (“Since you don’t like my ideas, what do you propose?”), the President has unleashed another round of GOP infighting, echoing the 2008 Republican primaries, that has laid bare exactly who is to blame for Congress’ inability to accomplish anything at all.
With little more than four weeks to go before fiscal cliff provisions are enacted, a backup plan that almost every economist worth his or her salt agrees would slow or freeze the nation’s fledgling recovery from the Great Recession altogether, right-leaning lawmakers can’t arrive at any internal agreement, let alone search for common ground with President Obama.
Just as Speaker Boehner finally offers a deal involving revenue increases, however insufficient these additional funds may be, Yahoo! News writer Chris Moody reports today that longtime Republican Senator Jim DeMint lashed out at his fellow lawmaker: “Speaker [John] Boehner’s $800 billion tax hike will destroy American jobs and allow politicians in Washington to spend even more, while not reducing our $16 trillion debt by a single penny. This isn’t rocket science. Everyone knows that when you take money out of the economy, it destroys jobs, and everyone knows that when you give politicians more money, they spend it. This is why Republicans must oppose tax increases and insist on real spending reductions that shrink the size of government and allow Americans to keep more of their hard-earned money.” Oh those Republicans, always thinking about the middle class and its bottom line. Whatever would we do without their support? Moody correctly observes that DeMint is “not directly involved in the negotiations and he represents just a single vote in Congress,” but with that said, the right-wing base should be running the other direction, away from thus internal strife.
It is reflective not only of a party that is unable to present solutions to near-term problems, but moreover, a group that is very close to relegating itself to the political backwoods in perpetuity. Did they not get the message on Election Day that Americans want solutions? Voters have made their voices heard: we cannot exclusively cut our way out of a financial hole that was created in large part by the failed policies of George W. Bush. The extremely wealthy took a tax vacation for 12 years on the backs of the working class. It’s over.
For a few days, GOP messaging hijinks will be amusing, but the closer we get to the New Year, the clearer it is that the party fails to understand much of anything. DeMint’s position is not mainstream and these public battles preclude the ability to hide behind President Obama’s “failure to lead.”