If you ignore the partisans on the evening news and embrace this morning’s Politico—“Inside talk: Fiscal Framework Emerges”—you can stop worrying about the “Fiscal Cliff” and start thinking about bigger problems, like climate change, nuclear proliferation, and the scarcity of well-paying jobs. Washington insiders say: In private, Obama’s winning; in private, he’ll get his tax increase; in private, they’ll agree to cut entitlement later.”
Still, legislating is, above all, a public activity. And so far, the Republican leaders who must publicly consummate the deal are hardly clouding over their differences with the President. Boehner and McConnell continue to chant: America has a spending problem, not a tax problem.
Agreeing to a framework that puts taxes first and entitlement cuts later asks Republicans to turn their rhetoric inside out.
Logically, this shouldn’t be very hard. After all, Mitt Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan promised to "save" not cut entitlements. In fact, Ryan disowned his own budget cuts and told his mother and her nervous friends that Barack Obama was going to steal money from Medicare.
However, in this populist age, it’s not easy to survive in Congress as a hypocrite.
Furthermore, Obama needs far more than a wee tax rate increase on the most affluent. Economic confidence needs a fiscal framework that (1) restores faith in the financial soundness of the biggest federal government in the world and (2) eliminates the threat on another debt-ceiling showdown next spring.
Fixing Washington’s finances, however, is not at all what a good number of Republicans and conservative watchdogs want to do. They’d probably prefer being right-wingers in Greece than in Sweden.
It’s tempting to take a vow of silence now, to leave the President alone. This time, they say, he’s winning by not negotiating with himself—allegedly something America’s legendary negotiators never do.
Nevertheless, no one else seems able to stop the spinning that’s paralyzed the US government for over two years.
Without pretending he’s just another backslapping, good ol' boy, Obama could put himself in Republican shoes. Conservatives read history too. They fear that new revenues get spent, that government grows when it can, and that government only cuts when unelected bankers say they must.
Concern that robust revenues were leading to ongoing federal surpluses largely justified George Bush’s first round of time limited income tax cuts. And those cuts were widely accepted by moderate Democrats.
Why not offer a time limit on the income tax increases Obama is proposing?
If a future Congress and President were faced with an automatic vote in, say, 2020 to continue or discontinue the higher tax rates, both Democrats and Republicans would feel greater pressure to keep the growth of entitlement spending under control.
The present would be more secure; conservatives and liberals wouldn’t be so scary when they’re fighting about the future.