President Barack Obama is due back in Washington early Thursday for a final effort to negotiate a deal with Congress to avert or at least postpone the "fiscal cliff" of tax increases and government spending cuts set to begin next week.And he'll have company:
Meanwhile, both chambers of Congress will come back from their holiday hiatus on Thursday and return to work.Of course "return to work" implies that before leaving town Congress was actually engaged in something productive. Instead, the last thing House Republicans did before leaving town was to continue holding middle-class tax cuts hostage by refusing to even vote on John Boehner's "Plan B" to cut taxes on all income below $1 million.
At this point, the most plausible sort of deal would seem to be one in which tax cuts for all income below a certain threshold are extended and sequester cuts are put on hold. Although that would leave important issues like unemployment benefits and Hurricane Sandy relief unsettled, it would avoid much of the fiscal cliff deficit reduction that threatens the economy, at least for a time. (Side note: Isn't it fun that the whole debate here is about how to increase the budget deficit?)
The thing is, for a deal such as that to pass, you'd need Senate Republicans to agree not to filibuster it and you'd need John Boehner agree to put a bill on the floor that would pass primarily with Democratic votes. If Boehner did that, however, he might as well resign as Speaker—unless House Republicans are willing to admit they took kabuki to a new extreme last week when they blocked Plan B. And the last time Mitch McConnell agreed to not use the filibuster during the Obama presidency was ... well, never.
Given that Republican political dysfunction remains the biggest hurdle to overcome, I think it's fair to blame them for the absurdity of this "fiscal cliff" idiocy. But at the same time, President Obama and congressional Democrats need to be prepared to let that dysfunction play itself out. If all they do is promise to do whatever it takes to get a deal done and beg Republicans to to come to their senses, then the GOP will never have any incentive to compromise and their dysfunction will continue to grow. In other words, if the goal is to get Republicans to compromise, then they need to pay a price for refusing to do so.