Michael Barone
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In his first formal press conference in months, Barack Obama showed that getting re-elected can increase a president's confidence and combativeness. He staked out tough stands on several issues, especially on the looming budget negotiations.

Looking ahead to the "fiscal cliff" on Dec. 31, when the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts expire and sequestration cuts government spending sharply, Obama demanded $1.6 trillion of increased revenues as part of any budget bargain.

That's twice the number he and Speaker John Boehner agreed on in the grand bargain talks in the summer of 2011.

Those talks fell apart when Obama telephoned Boehner and raised his demand to $1.2 trillion. Boehner refused, and as Bob Woodward describes in "The Price of Politics," congressional leaders of both parties worked out their own approach. Sequestration, first suggested by Obama's budget director, became part of the deal.

There's a solid argument that limiting high earners' deductions could raise $800 billion or more. A $25,000 cap on deductions, according to The Wall Street Journal, would yield almost $1.3 trillion of additional revenue. The Simpson-Bowles commission showed that broadening the tax base could net $1.1 trillion.

And there's a solid argument that raising tax rates on high earners, in conjunction with the increase that's part of Obamacare, would slow down economic growth. That's because many small businesses are taxed at the individual income tax rate.

Obama once accepted that argument, albeit reluctantly, when he temporarily abandoned his quest for higher rates in December 2010. Raising them, he conceded, would hurt while economic growth was still sluggish.

It's actually more sluggish today than it was then, although as Obama pointed out in the press conference, we are further away from the sharp economic decline of 2008-09.

In effect, Obama is giving House Republicans a choice between a growth slowdown due to higher tax rates now and the much sharper slowdown that some economists predict -- 5 percent is a number bandied about -- if we go over the fiscal cliff.

The political leverage seems to be on Obama's side, or so he seems to believe. Most of the media inevitably blame Republicans when Republicans and Democrats are not able to reach agreement.

Politico reports that a number of House Republicans, including some staunch conservatives, think they'll have to give in on higher rates. Many members don't want to defend them back home.

But there is also a force working against Obama: the gravity of the government's fiscal condition. The president himself has recognized that entitlement programs are on an unsustainable trajectory.

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Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM