Let's face it: Obama destroyed on the fiscal cliff; could it mean the decline of the ultra-right?

Let’s face it: Obama destroyed on the fiscal cliff; could it mean the decline of the ultra-right?

Jan 3, 2013


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Let’s face it: Obama killed it on the fiscal cliff negotiations. It was a blowout win and an embarrassment for House Republicans, one which could even herald a change in House Republican leadership Thursday when John Boehner faces reelection for House Speaker.

The road to Obama’s victory, in which he basically got everything he wanted and gave up nothing, was a long one—it really began in the debt limit negotiations of 2011. After getting brutally outmaneuvered by House Republicans in his attempt to compromise on the budget early in his first term, he conceded to the fiscal cliff terms as a condition to raise the debt limit in 2011. Those conditions were supposed to be so bad that they’d force him to compromise more than he’d like to in 2012—he’d have no choice. At the time the rule was created it looked like major Republican leverage. But Obama’s trump card was that he was actually willing to go over the cliff.

It’s safe to say Obama’s full-throttle approach wasn’t expected, and it threw a monkey wrench into Boehner’s attempt to control his own party members in congress. Once he realized Obama was really serious about going over the cliff, Boehner took an alternative plan to House Republicans on December 21 to raise taxes only on those making more than $1 million a year. They turned him down flat—but it backfired. At the time Ron Meyer, spokesman for the the conservative American Majority Action, said “Conservatives won a huge battle tonight. Speaker Boehner can’t get away with his reckless political ploys anymore at the expense of our principles.” This week the House voted to raise taxes on individuals making more than $400,000 (and families more than $450,000). If they’d just been a little more mellow they probably could moved the tax line closer to $1 million.

But they are not mellow—at least not many of them. What’s emerging is a split between the truly dogmatic conservatives and those who are at least a little pragmatic. On that split, the dogmatists are now losing and losing badly.

After the fiscal deal, the House incurred the wrath of Sandy-ravaged states by refusing to vote on an aid bill because it meant more spending. Boehner said the vote should be the first priority of the new Congress, which convenes on Thursday.

Meyer was back on MSNBC yesterday spreading rumors that Boehner would resign and that the hardliners who’d voted against the fiscal cliff deal would launch a coup, led by Eric Cantor of Virginia, to take over control of the House.

But it seems more likely that incoming Congress members would notice that the hard-line approach of no compromise is not working out very well and reelect Boehner, who’s proved to have the capacity for compromise.

With the fiscal cliff behind us, the next big item on Congress’s economic agenda is the debt ceiling, which must get raised again in February. Republicans have said they’ll attempt the 2011 strategy of getting Obama to agree to spending cuts in order to raise it. Obama has already said in no uncertain terms that he won’t negotiate on it. Now that he’s uncovered his new strategy, he seems to be saying, “Fine. If you don’t want to raise the debt limit, I’ll just let us default. Our credit will get downgraded, markets will go crazy, and you’ll get blamed.”

Whereas his first term saw Obama’s hands tied by the hard right, his new willingness to play a game of chicken to the brutal end may mean the decline of ultra-right conservatives’ influence in writing laws during his second term.

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