Fiscal Cliff Winners and Losers
He’s so damn easy to make fun of, with his sparkly smile and foot-in-mouth-disease. But he rolled up his sleeves and hammered the deal — not a great deal by any means, but by the time Biden strolled in, there were no great deals to be had and barely any doable deals at all. Remember that Biden entered the picture after President Barack Obama pissed everybody off by lecturing Republicans and crowing about the deal at a press conference with “midde classers” before the deal was even done. So here are the optics: Having screwed up so that absolutely no one will so much as talk to him, Obama is forced to let Biden lead. And the Affable One does.
He stayed out of it pretty much to the end, kept as low a profile as a Senate Minority leader who’s worried about an out-of-state Hollywood star challenging him can, then reached across the aisle to Joe Biden. Sure, you and I know it was more a desperate move than any true bipartisan impulse, but McConnell can now say he goes both ways. And he’s the clear co-author of the “deal” — if not the bill itself — to keep us from going over. All this will look great in a Mitch-to-the-rescue narrative for his re-election bid, coming up in less than a year.
I know, it looks like Speaker of the House John Boehner was yo-yo-ing him throughout the process: Yeah, we have the votes for Plan B — oops, we don’t; yeah, we’ve got a deal — oh, it sucks; of course we’re gonna vote on Sandy aid — oh, guess we’re on vacay. But Cantor — Boehner’s only real long-term competition for Speaker (though not this time) — needed to undo the personal damage he incurred from last year's debt ceiling crisis, when he seemed to be having a potentially destabilizing tantrum every two minutes. In other words, he needed to be a mensch this time. And though some might argue with my use of the term, he came as close as he possibly could given the circumstances: He did a totally loyal stand-by-your-man with Boehner. No matter what disaster was at hand, he only said nice things about him to the press, did not roll his eyes or sneer but looked as sincere as Cantor can (sometimes he even looked concerned). And he pretty much washed his hands of the whole mess in the end, when he voted against the deal. If it works, great — Cantor will argue his was a vote of conscience. If it doesn’t — the more likely outcome — he’s on record.
You’re thinking, what? John Boehner, a winner? Listen to me: His power is unquestionably diminished because the crazies in his conference have been exposed and now even the Democrats understand the limits of what Boehner — or any GOP Speaker — can deliver. But Boehner, who is personally well-liked, may have gained some inside points by making several moves. One, he pulled his Plan B, at great personal cost, to avoid the much worse embarrassment of an actual vote. And when the McConnell-Biden bill landed in the House, he let the crazies vent, let them try to vote to kill it, even helped take the count, so that they could see it wouldn’t work. In other words, he didn’t cram anything down anybody’s throats. He had the patience to let it all work itself out. And by showing just what an animal house the GOP has, just how wildly undisciplined his members are and how disciplined he can be, Boehner will come back to lead for another year. Even Cantor will vote for him, probably taking notes as he does so.
God knows, the man’s spine is made of uncooked pizza dough. You know how he campaigned on taxing everybody with incomes beyond $250,000 with broad public support? Well, that’s at $400,000 now. He didn’t even bother to negotiate the payroll tax, giving that away as a door prize at the meet and greet for the negotiations.
Sure, he held the line on Social Security -- but not because he wanted. We can thank Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi for making him stick to his vow not to include Social Security in the deal.
The White House will spend a lot of time and money trying to convince us that this deal -- which was apparently put together by Biden and McConnell, not Obama and Boehner -- is a major moral victory because Republicans are now on record raising taxes.
Don’t believe this. The GOP managed to wait out the stroke of midnight to the New Year and even got Grover Norquist to say the timing magically transformed their vote into a tax cut instead. And in the Republican districts where this matters, Norquist’s take on this will weigh way more than Obama’s.
Moreover, Obama has now set himself for a titanic debt ceiling fight in all of two months. Not only have the Republicans preferred that as a battleground all along, but now they can say they gave in — yes, they will have it both ways — and that it’s the Democrats’ turn to give. Obama has basically turned a colossal bargaining leverage into a defensive position for his party. Repeat and rewind!
All of which means that actual policy — like the oft-promised immigration overall, and gun control — will continue to be marginalized. The bad blood from these fights will also spill over to those efforts, making it harder and harder to get a deal, while Obama’s lame-duckness diminishes his influence by the day.
The GOP’s VP standard bearer in 2012 has been missing in action during these talks. Oh, he voted for the deal, but he must have telegrammed it. Not only has he not been at these crucial meetings and press conferences, but he’s had virtually nothing to say about it. Perhaps this is a brilliant strategy to not get burned, but these cowardly moves are nothing more than a lack of leadership. It’s almost like he and Obama are wrestling to see who’s the got the bigger noodle up their butts. And because at least Obama has to show up, Ryan may have won that contest.