The Campaign Spot

A Long Cliff-mas Break Comes to an End

The first Morning Jolt of 2013:

Welcome back! I don’t know about you, but this holiday season seemed to stretch on forever — a school vacation that kept the kids at home for eleven days, an awful cold that kept getting passed around our family, a lost cell phone, a logistical and paperwork nightmare to replace the cell phone, and a steady stream of mostly miserable weather. On the bright side, I didn’t have to deal with covering the fiscal-cliff negotiations, so God bless Bob Costa.

Depress-equestration

The fiscal cliff drama is over — for now:

After exhaustive negotiations that strained the country’s patience, the House approved a bill to avert the dreaded fiscal cliff, staving off widespread tax increases and deep spending cuts.

In the 257-167 vote late Tuesday, 172 Democrats and 85 Republicans favored the bill; 16 Democrats and 151 Republicans opposed it…

While the package provides some short-term certainty, it leaves a range of big issues unaddressed.

It doesn’t mention the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling that the United States reached Monday.

It also temporarily delays for two months the so-called sequester, a series of automatic cuts in federal spending that would have taken effect Wednesday and reduced the budgets of most agencies and programs by 8% to 10%.

This means that come late February, Congress will have to tackle both those thorny issues.

Yuval Levin: “This deal is projected to yield $620 billion in revenue over a decade — increasing projected federal revenue by about 1.7% over that time. And that’s about it. The Democrats have made the Bush tax rates permanent for 98 percent of the public, which Republicans couldn’t even do when they controlled both houses of Congress and the presidency.”

The righty grassroots expressed a lot of anger, frustration, and dissatisfaction in the past few weeks. Over the past week I saw a lot of comments on Twitter in the vein of, “we have a spending problem! Why won’t Republicans insist we deal with that first!”

Fume at Speaker Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell all you want, but here’s the problem: The chance to gain leverage in these negotiations was on Election Day, and the GOP came up with bubkes that day. Sequestration and the expiration of all of the Bush tax cuts presented an awful status quo to begin with, and there was really no better alternative that would get A) passed in a Senate controlled by Harry Reid and B) signed by President Obama. They don’t want what we want, and we don’t want what they want. And time was on their side in several ways, not least of which was that as of noon Thursday, a new Congress, with even more Democrats, is sworn into office.

There was and is no magic argument, anecdote, policy detail or chart that could change that dynamic. What was worse — or perhaps, if you look at it a certain way, liberating — was that Republicans were and are just about certain to get the blame from most of the public, either for the failure to reach a deal or for the unpopular parts of any deal reached. Some of this is because of the power of the presidential bully pulpit, and some of this reflects people’s enthusiasm for taxing somebody making more money than they do. But a lot of this dynamic is because a large segment of the public just doesn’t pay attention to budget fights and doesn’t want to pay attention to budget fights. So no matter what the numbers actually say, they’re inclined to blame the party they already consider to be the problem.

Allahpundit examines those who wanted the House to vote down the deal passed by the Senate about an hour and a half into the New Year:

It’s worth driving a hard bargain to get something important done, even at the price of a backlash. Just remind me again what “important” goal will be achieved by forcing a new round of negotiations. What sort of spending cuts do you expect to see here? A trillion dollars over 10 years when we’re running trillion-dollar deficits annually? Even if they got Obama to agree to that, why would you believe that future Congresses would allow those cuts to happen down the line? This entire process is an elaborate charade designed to postpone the ultimate reckoning on entitlement reform, and you’re simply not going to wring serious entitlement reform out of the Democrats given the two parties’ current postures. Obama just won reelection; the Democrats expanded their numbers in the House and Senate; entitlement reform remains depressingly unpopular among the public despite attempts to educate them about the role mandatory spending plays in driving the national debt. House Republicans aren’t going to hold out for weeks on end in the futile hope of revamping Medicare against that backdrop while middle-class voters stew over their new, higher tax brackets. Why risk some of the GOP’s small reserve of political capital on a deal that’s only negligibly less terrible than this one? I understand the “let it burn” strategy, to force the public to fully absorb the cost of big government. I don’t understand this one.

The Washington Examiner’s Phil Klein sees the conglomeration as a mix of some modest good and some considerable bad and ugly — but points out that perhaps nothing was uglier than how this mess came to be presented to the public as the best option:

Conservatives believe that higher taxes are a bad thing, that the tax code needs to be dramatically overhauled and that the true driver of long-term debt is out of control spending, particularly on entitlements. For those who thought it was possible to emerge from the “fiscal cliff” showdown without tax increases, with genuine tax reform and with real spending cuts that made fundamental changes to entitlements, this deal is obviously a nonstarter. For those who assumed that President Obama’s reelection and continued Democratic control of the Senate at a time when the nation was facing an automatic $4.5 trillion tax hike would inevitably mean higher taxes without actual tax or entitlement reforms, the deal is less bad.

. . . Beyond the specifics of the deal, the process was awful. Even though lawmakers knew this reality was coming for two years (on the tax side) and a year (on the sequester side), they waited until New Year’s Eve to strike a deal that passed through the Senate at 2 a.m. on New Year’s Day. The public has had no chance to review — let alone understand — the legislation. So much for transparency.

But since you deserve to hear dissenting voices, who loathe the agreement that passed the Senate, here’s Deroy Murdock:

President Obama repeatedly has called for a “balanced approach” to deficit relief and debt reduction. H.R. 8, the bill in question, is less balanced than the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Amazingly, as the Congressional Budget Office calculates, for every $1 that this proposal cuts spending, it hikes taxes by $41! In total, $15 billion in spending cuts are dwarfed by $620 billion in tax increases. Meanwhile, America’s $16.42 trillion national debt roars relentlessly on, since this measure does not even attempt to fill this Grand Canyon of red ink.

And Ben Howe: “My problem with ‘pass whatever as long as taxes don’t go up’ position is that it’s a shining example of the can-kicking that got us here.”

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