If the deal was the final compromise, Democrats could cheer at the results. But it's not. We get to do it all over again in two months and Republicans plan on holding the nation's economy hostage by threatening default. Their gambit—either hack and slash at our safety net, or America gets it. It's economic terrorism, pure and simple.
There are two schools of thought—one is that Obama has leverage in that any default would be laid squarely at the GOP's feet. Ezra Klein is of this thought:
[The White House has] set up a definition of success that will sound reasonable to most people — a dollar in tax reform for a dollar in spending cuts — while the Republicans have a very unreasonable sounding definition, in which they get huge cuts to Medicare or they force the United States into default. So while it’s possible that the White House will crumble, rendering itself impotent in negotiations going forward, and while it’s possible that the we’ll breach the debt ceiling, both possibilities seem less likely than Republicans agreeing to a deal that pairs revenue-generating tax reform with spending cuts.Then there is the camp that believes that the GOP doesn't care about destroying our economy if it means they get to take down Social Security and Medicare (and Obamacare) down in the process. And the president, being a reasonable person who likes to play the "adult in the room" will cave to that economic terrorism in order to avoid a greater catastrophe. Paul Krugman voices those concerns:
So why the bad taste in progressives’ mouths? It has less to do with where Obama ended up than with how he got there. He kept drawing lines in the sand, then erasing them and retreating to a new position. And his evident desire to have a deal before hitting the essentially innocuous fiscal cliff bodes very badly for the confrontation looming in a few weeks over the debt ceiling.Whatever argument we're going to have, it shouldn't be whether this deal is good or bad. It's over whether Obama will eventually cave or not, and that's not an argument based on outcome, but one based on opinions.
If Obama stands his ground in that confrontation, this deal won’t look bad in retrospect. If he doesn’t, yesterday will be seen as the day he began throwing away his presidency and the hopes of everyone who supported him.
My own is that Obama traded away the tax issue, thus has little leverage in this next round given the GOP's demonstrated willingness to screw over the country to destroy Obama's presidency. Ezra thinks a new deal is possible with equal spending to revenue offsets. I think that's highly unlikely, particularly since this recent deal included mostly revenue increases. The GOP won't be in any mood to surrender more on that front, and many of their "yes" votes on this deal were explicit about their desire for payback with the debt ceiling debate.
So it all comes down to whether 1) we believe the GOP is willing to take the plunge and hit both the fiscal cliff and the debt ceiling, thus crashing our economy, and 2) whether Obama will be willing to let the GOP take that plunge before making massive concessions to avoid an even bigger disaster.
I think "absolutely" on the first question, "no way in hell" on the second. But those are opinions based on existing precedents. Maybe the GOP will stare down its crazies and negotiate in good faith without threatening the execute its hostage. Maybe Obama has learned to negotiate from the position of strength that the election results have earned him, and has learned that you cannot negotiate with terrorists.
Lots of maybes, and that's where we're at. But to be clear, I don't doubt Obama's motivations. I don't believe he wants people to suffer. What I doubt is his resolve in the face of economic terrorism. Because remember—if he does the right thing and stand up to Republicans, we'll all feel better, and the long-term results will be far better, but the short-term pain could be brutal and hurt lots and lots of people.
Whether Republicans take the blame for that or not is immaterial to the fact that lots of people will suffer. Republicans don't give a shit about that. We do, and Republicans know that and will use that against us.
Because they're psychopaths.