The odds are increasing the President Obama and the Democrats will rout the Republicans in the current battle over the “fiscal cliff.”
I realize that all of the “wise men” of Washington are clamoring for a bi-partisan solution to fix the nation’s deficit – a “solution” that involves “shared sacrifice.” But the plain fact is that the deficit is not a bi-partisan problem. Democrat Bill Clinton left Republican George Bush surpluses as far as the eye could see.
Today’s deficit was caused when the Republicans cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans and started two wars for which they refused to pay. The deficit got worse when Republican policies caused the financial markets and the economy to collapse in the Great Recession.
That was the Republican legacy inherited by incoming President Barack Obama. Now, after having saved the economy from falling into a depression, laid the groundwork for economic recovery and soundly won re-election, President Obama is poised to force Republicans to do what is critically necessary to right the nation’s fiscal situation: raise tax rates on the wealthiest Americans.
And he is likely to be successful without yielding to Republican demands that much of the bill to close the federal deficit be paid by the still-struggling middle class.
The fact is that Obama and the Democrats are holding all the cards.
There are five reasons why Obama is likely to succeed:
1). The “fiscal cliff” is very different than the “debt ceiling.” In 2011, the Obama Administration believed it was critically important to the economy to avoid a default on the nation’s debt.
In that standoff, the GOP held so many cards because many of its members were willing to allow the nation go into default. They were like terrorists who are willing to blow up themselves – and everyone else – to make a political point.
As a result, the Obama Administration had to use every tool it could to avoid yet another GOP-induced economic disaster. It was bargaining with a gun to its head. In the circumstances, the outcome was not bad for Democrats. Though the deal did not include increased revenue from the wealthy – and many key programs that benefit the poor and middle class took a hit -- Democrats avoided disastrous permanent structural changes in Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid. And they took the debt ceiling timebomb out of the GOP’s hands until after the fall elections.
Most importantly, they struck a deal that changed the battlefield for the next engagement to a much more advantageous time and place – after the elections when the Bush Tax cuts were about to expire by law.
It would not be an economic disaster for the country to go over the “fiscal cliff.” In fact, going over the cliff will only increase Democratic leverage to reach a deal which eliminates the dreaded “sequester,” avoids massive cuts, and most importantly raises taxes on the wealthy.
2). Expiration of the Bush Tax Cuts. If Congress takes no action at all – something the Republican Congress is very good at doing – all tax rates in America will go up to their Clinton-era levels at year’s end. The pressure on Republicans will then be enormous to vote yes on the Democratic bill to restore the Bush tax cuts for the 98% of the population that makes less than $250,000 per year – leaving wealthy Americans paying Clinton-era rates.
After the first of the year, Americans will start seeing an average of over $2,000 per year coming out of their paychecks in withholding. If the Republican leadership refuses to take up the Democratic tax measure, the GOP will be blamed by the voters for the tax increase; it’s that simple.
Once the Republican leadership in the House is forced to face reality and bring the bill to a vote, most Republicans will join Democrats in supporting the measure – whether or not it is coupled with any further “spending cuts.” Otherwise they will risk being attacked in the 2014 elections for voting against tax cuts for the middle class simply to protect tax breaks for people like Donald Trump.
The President has been clear he will veto any bill that extends the Bush Tax cuts for the wealthy. In the end GOP lawmakers will have no choice but to fold.
3). Republicans are afraid to propose specific cuts to Medicare. Don’t get me wrong, Republicans want to destroy Medicare. But their proposal to do that – the Ryan plan to eliminate Medicare and convert it to a voucher program – was soundly discredited in the election.
The GOP understands the power and popularity of Medicare. Without any shame, it ran ad after ad in 2010 and 2012 accusing Obama and Democrats in Congress of “cutting” Medicare by $716 billion as part of ObamaCare. They were, of course, perfectly willing to ignore that benefits actually improved and that these “cuts” were really reductions of insurance company subsidies for the so-called “Medicare-Advantage” program and other forms of inefficiency and waste.
But the point is that the GOP understands that Medicare is very popular and the everyday voters don’t want to see it cut to fix the deficit. They understand its electoral power.
That’s why yesterday, when Obama Administration representatives met with Republicans to present Obama’s bargaining position, the Republicans refused to say what additional cuts they wanted in Medicare as the price for tax increases. They demanded that the Administration itself detail cuts they might be willing to accept. They want to be able to claim that they supported cuts in Medicare proposed by the Democrats.
Well that isn’t going to happen. Democrats have no interest in falling into that trap – or negotiating with themselves -- even if they were willing to inflict economic pain on ordinary Americans to fix a deficit problem that ordinary people didn’t cause in the first place.
The Republican’s best hope for political cover when it comes to Medicare was some kind of bi-partisan panel or “grand bargain” negotiation. But by forcing the GOP to name its own price – to put its cards on the table in public -- Obama has forced them to accept full political responsibility for cutting Medicare. That is a big problem for them.
And let’s be clear, the GOP understands that it is impossible for them to run a national mobilization to demand cuts in Medicare.
4). Obama has political momentum and public support. Obama and the Democrats just won major victories at the polls. Most Americans favor closing the deficit by raising taxes on the rich. Most Americans opposed closing the deficit by cutting Medicare and Medicaid.
And Obama plans to press this advantage by mobilizing the massive organization he created during the campaign. His allies have organized events all over America starting this weekend to demand action from GOP Members of Congress -- rallying its forces around TheAction.org.
The Labor movement has joined the fight with issue ads, press events and thousands of phone calls to Congress.
Progressive organizations like MoveOn and Americans United for Change have swung into action.
Capitalizing on the momentum from his campaign victory, the President is poised to barnstorm around the country to mobilize support for his demand that the taxes of ordinary Americans should not be held hostage to tax breaks for the rich.
5) The GOP base, on the other hand, is divided and dispirited. The Romney campaign and Republican operatives had – against all evidence – convinced them that they could and would win the fall elections. They were wrong. The long knives are out in the Republican Party.
Worse, the organizing principle uniting the Tea Party – ousting Obama – is gone. Many of the Tea Party faithful are unlikely to get too worked up about defending tax breaks for Donald Trump and Paris Hilton.
Even in the election campaign, it’s hard to argue that Republicans had a real unifying leader they could believe in and follow. Romney will not be remembered as in inspiring figure. But now they have no one. Does anyone expect to see John Boehner barnstorming the country?
A fundamental principle of warfare is that when you have them on the run, that’s the time to chase them.
Both the timing of the Lame Duck battle, and Obama’s willingness to press his advantage, have denied the Republicans the opportunity to regroup after their devastating election defeat. They are leaderless and disorganized. It’s hard to press a counter attack when you are in full retreat.
If the President and Democrats continue to press their advantage, history will remember the battle of the “Lame Duck Fiscal Cliff” as a rout.
Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on He is a partner in Democracy Partners and a Senior Strategist for Americans United for Change. Follow him on Twitter @rbcreamer.