Their thinking was this: The GOP was on the wrong side of the polls in the battle over raising taxes on the highest earners. Surveys showed substantial public support for the president and Democrats on that issue. But Republicans are on the right side of the polls in the battle over fiscal responsibility. The GOP, the party trying to put sensible limits on Obama's runaway spending, is better positioned to make the case for cuts.
"We're making a hard pivot to spending," says a senior GOP Senate aide. "Our view is that the revenue question has now been settled. It's behind us. Now we fight on spending, and we've got two good opportunities to do so coming up -- the debt limit and the continuing resolution."
The Republican strategy is more than just positioning. It's the right thing to do. Everybody knows Obama's tax increases will do little to reduce deficits in coming years. They'll add about $60 billion in revenue a year, turning a $1.2 trillion deficit into a $1.14 trillion deficit. And everybody knows entitlement spending is on its way to eating the entire federal budget. It has to be reduced or disaster awaits.
Nevertheless, the mood on the political left since the election has become one of solid opposition to any and all cuts in entitlements. The president won the election, activists on the left say, so he should get the tax increases he wants and Republicans should not get the spending cuts they want. Obama, who has never shown any serious interest in cutting spending anyway, will be under pressure not to concede anything.
And the president is not through trying to raise taxes. In coming days, he will cite the Republican offer, made just after the election, to raise revenue by eliminating tax deductions and broadening the base. Now that he has won the fight to raise tax rates instead, Obama will demand that Republicans give in on deductions, too, as they had once offered.
The GOP hopes to stop that cold. "The president got his revenue," Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell said Jan. 3 in his opening remarks to the new Senate. "Now it's time to turn squarely to the real problem, which is spending."