The current deal diffuses the austerity bomb, but does it do anything for the crazy bomb? I haven't seen full details of the proposed fiscal cliff deal. Since I'm not sure even the Senate has see these yet, I expect we're all going on partial information. From what I know of the deal:
1. Tax increases will begin at $400,000 not $250,000.
2. Tax deduction limits will start kicking in at $250,000.
3. The current federal supplemental unemployment benefit program will be continued for another year.
4. The sequester will be dealt with in two months with the debt limit.
5. All the other fiscal bombs set to hit at the end of the year got either removed, renewed or extended depended on what needed to be done.
This is exactly the kind of compromise that the American people want to see. The fiscal bomb got diffused. If we are to believe that Republicans, in good faith, feel that a tax increase on those making $250,000 would harm the economy, and the Democrats in good faith believe that tax rates on the wealthy must rise, the the current deal represents both sides compromising to enact a package that is good for the nation. It may be over cautious, perhaps all the elements do not need to be there, but the American people appreciate their leaders exercising caution so as not to derail what seems to be a gathering recovery.
The problem, at least from the prospective of the Obama administrations reactions, is John Boehner. Let me be blunt, at the end of the day is expect Mr. Boehner is a patriot. He may hold differing views on what is best for the country. He does not actually want to see the nation go down to wrack and ruin to defend his ideological positions. In a crisis he will compromise. Further, this round of negotiations has shown that Mr. Boehner will not jump in front of a political freight train by proposing cuts to popular social welfare programs. Boehner might be a jerk, but he does not want to be responsible for the political suicide of the republican party. Proposing, for example, a chained CPI for Social Security would be just that. His party is hanging on by the vote of scarred old white people, he will not risk loosing them.
The question is how much power does Mr. Boehner have? The Obama administration is betting that a consensus can be built that would allow Mr. Boehner and a rump of the Republican Party to join with Democrats to move legislation in the upcoming congress. If so we would see a number of compromise measures that, if not total victory for the progressive viewpoint, would admit to the reality that Democrats made up the majority of the votes for them.
The most dangerous part of this strategy is what happens if the Republican Party is farther gone than Obama suspects. What do we do if elements of the Republican Party decides, for example, that a default on the federal debt, followed by a secessionist movement and an attempt to reform the country along the lines of a political confederation with a single currency-such as the EU-might be a good idea? Such a endgame would allow for states to exit from Federal oversight of civil rights issues. Any offer to move away from this endgame would require massive, and destructive, concessions. While such a scenario would seem more the realm of political fiction than reality, the Republican Party has shown cult like tendencies of late. To put it another way, I suspect that substantial elements of the Republican Party are neither rational actors nor bargaining in good faith. History has shown conservative political factions in the United States possess an ability to engage in actions later deemed by sociologists as episodes of mass hysteria (the two red scares come to mind). While the above example might not be the way the crazy bomb actually explodes, something on that magnitude would not be out of the question.
I think the issue most of us have is not the details of the current deal. The current deal defuses the austerity bomb but does little to help with the crazy bomb. The White House had decided that Mr. Boehner is able to hold the crazies in congress in check (aided in no small part by progressive efforts to ensure that a number of the craziest of the crazy will not be sitting in the next congress). What worries me, and I suspect other progressives, is that the crazies are not truly in check. By not using the fiscal cliff to enact a situation that limits the harm that can take place, we may have opened the door for a situation that nobody can control.