As we look ahead to the so-called "fiscal cliff" negotiation, it's instructive to consider what the Republicans would do if they were in our position, with all the momentum and the leverage.
Here's a brief thought experiment: imagine that a Republican president had just been elected with 332 electoral votes and a 51% to 48% popular vote, and that his party had gained two seats to strengthen their Republican majority in the Senate. Meanwhile, the only branch of government still controlled by Democrats was the House, where Democrats had lost ground while still managing to retain control of that Chamber.
In the aftermath of this hypothetical GOP election victory, the media would be speculating on how Democrats must change their message in order to ever have a chance of winning a presidential election in the future, and the Democratic Party would be divided and bitter.
In this scenario, it's hard to imagine the Republicans being in the mood to compromise on the agenda they ran on (and won on), isn't it?
(more below the fold)
In fact, we can look to recent history for an example much more concrete than the hypothetical I outlined above. In the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election, George W. Bush got almost exactly the outcome he wanted from his first policy showdown with Congress.
Amazingly, records of this time still exist (!) and it's eye-opening to read through them. Here's a USA Today article from May 28th, 2001:
White House officials were becoming nervous. It was March, and Democrats were insisting that President Bush needed to compromise on his tax cut, change the package into a real economic stimulus plan and, above all, put some action behind his vow of bipartisanship. Bush's economic team had come to believe it was time to start cutting deals. "Steady," the president replied as he tried to calm his agitated staff. "It's not time to negotiate. We'll be negotiating with ourselves."Interesting, no?
The White House had not changed a comma in a tax plan hatched in 1999, during the Republican primaries. Since then, the economy had turned from robust to anemic. Bush had lost the popular vote and had squeaked into the White House by a single electoral vote. The Senate had nearly slipped from Republican control and "bipartisanship" had become the mantra in Washington. But Bush was stubbornly sticking to his plan. "We'll be giving up something without getting anything for ourselves," he told aides.
When Bush signs the largest tax cut in 20 years into law next week, his hold-the-line strategy will receive clear vindication. He campaigned for a 10-year, $1.3 trillion tax-cut package (later re-estimated as $1.6 trillion over 11 years). He got a $1.35 trillion package over 10 years.
At a time when the Republican president had been elected with less than 50% of the popular vote, he still managed to get the tax cuts he had campaigned on.
And he got Democratic votes in order to do it, too.
Compare that with our current situation, where the GOP has already said it won't support any tax cuts, even though President Obama campaigned on (and won on) his pledge to make the very wealthy pay a little bit more.
If the Republicans were in our position, here's what they would do:
1. Paint the other side as being unreasonable and/or out of touch
2. Say that they are obstructing the will of the people
3. Give no sign of willingness to compromise
It's a rather jerk-ish way to proceed, but it's one that has been effective in this type of negotiation in the past.
So what can we do?
1. Above all, we must call out the Republicans for obstructing the will of the people and we must indicate that the expiration of the tax cuts for income above $250,000 is non-negotiable. (Remember, that is not even a tax increase because it's already schedule to happen if no further laws are passed!)
President Obama has done a good job so far of sticking to his guns, but we must keep the pressure on him and all other elected Democrats to continue doing so.
2. Use powerful language. This simple wording should do the trick: "Republicans are obstructing the President's tax cut plan that the voters overwhelmingly approved on Election Day. They need to stop obstructing and let the will of the voters be carried out."
3. If necessary, we should be willing to take the message to the GOP where it hurts them. OFA is stronger than ever, and we should all be ready to organize events - for example in John Boehner's and Eric Cantor's districts (Ohio and Virginia - two states we just won). Imagine what that would do to the media narrative if we organized events outside of Boehner's and Cantor's district offices every Saturday protesting their obstructionism!
Let's stay strong and make sure this wonderful victory has equally wonderful results. I look forward to hearing more ideas in the comments...