While most media accounts of the fiscal cliff fiasco have focused on Republicans' travails, few have adequately noted Democrats' starring role in our current dysfunction. Harry Reid obstructed a vote on the president's plan, Nancy Pelosi whipped votes against her own erstwhile plan, and the president has fully retreated from ideas he supported as recently as last year. A pre-Christmas Wall Street Journal article walks readers through the failed negotiations, and two recurring themes are woven throughout: (1) Obama has zero interest in meaningful concessions on his end, and (2) Obama is supremely confident in his ability to stick Republicans with the blame if the economy slides off the cliff. As the president and the House Speaker begin one final attempt to strike some sort of a deal -- which may eventually pass with mostly Democrat votes -- here are a few nuggets from the Journal's thorough piece about how we've reached the precipice:
A review of the negotiations, based on interviews with a dozen aides and lawmakers, suggests the problems lay in Mr. Boehner's inability to coax his rank-and-file to support a deal that raises taxes on higher-income Americans. Another factor was what Republicans saw as President Obama's unwillingness to bend when a deal was in sight, jamming the speaker with a deal his party couldn't swallow. Mr. Obama repeatedly lost patience with the speaker as negotiations faltered. In an Oval Office meeting last week, he told Mr. Boehner that if the sides didn't reach agreement, he would use his inaugural address and his State of the Union speech to tell the country the Republicans were at fault. At one point, according to notes taken by a participant, Mr. Boehner told the president, "I put $800 billion [in tax revenue] on the table. What do I get for that?" "You get nothing," the president said. "I get that for free."
On the White House walking away from the broad outlines of a bipartisan "balanced" deal they tentatively embraced during the debt fight of 2011:
The same sticking points kept rearing up—the White House insisting on more tax revenue than Republicans could stomach, and the Republicans demanding deeper cuts than the White House would accept. During one session in the Capitol with White House's legislative liaison Rob Nabors, Mr. Loper from the Boehner camp asked, referring to a near-deal during last year's debt-ceiling fight: "Can you get back into the zone of where you were in July 2011?" "No," Mr. Nabors replied. "We were probably overextended then, and there's no way we would do it now."
On Obama's nonchalant shrug in the face of serious, specific Republican concessions:
That night, the speaker and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) decided to make the biggest concession so far. As the country the next day digested news of a brutal school shooting in Connecticut, Mr. Boehner called the president and for the first time offered to let tax rates rise—on income above $1 million. The president acknowledged the concession but said Mr. Boehner's plan wasn't raising enough revenue. News broke the next night both about the concession and that the speaker was willing to extend the borrowing limit. On Sunday, the White House sent a plane to fly Mr. Boehner back to Washington for a morning appointment with the president on Monday, the day it now appears the deal fell apart. In that session, the president held firm for $1.2 trillion in additional tax revenue, a second step down from his original offer. Mr. Boehner asked for another $100 billion in spending cuts but couldn't get a commitment. Finally, the speaker said, "Well, you and I can sit here and stare at each other," or he could leave and they would talk later. Back in the Capitol, Mr. Boehner told Mr. Cantor the president wasn't moving. They agreed to call him. On the call, Mr. Boehner restated he needed $1 in spending cuts for every $1 in revenue raised. He dropped a prior demand to increase the Medicare eligibility age. The president told Mr. Boehner that he was willing to make some concessions on taxes and spending, but cautioned that they needed to retain Democratic votes for the bill to pass.
Conspicuously absent from this report are any insights into Obama's concessions. Republican leaders essentially negotiated against themselves for weeks; they offered $800 billion in new revenues, then they agreed to allow tax rates to increase on millionaires, then they put a debt ceiling extension on the table, then they dropped their demands on raising the Medicare eligibility age (which liberal groups loudly opposed). Obama sniffed at each step, and offered nothing in return. The White House tinkered around with the total sum of tax increases, but they never proposed a package that even approached a 1-for-1 spending cut to tax hike ratio, let alone the 3-to-1 ratio recommended by his fiscal commission. At one point, Boehner sought a measly $100 billion commitment on additional cuts, and couldn't even get a firm answer on that. Obama supposedly signaled a willingness to deal on entitlements, but those details strangely never seemed to materialize. The president has warned GOP negotiators that he's happy to use his inaugural address to deliver body blows in the 'cliff' blame game. Our hyper-partisan president's overwhelming interest seems to be crippling his political opponents, not fixing the problem. He believes he has an electoral mandate, public opinion on his side, and the lions share of leverage. Economic outcomes are secondary. I'll leave you with two salient reminders: First, the entire reason our government faces giant crises every six months or so is that Democrats have abandoned the legally-mandated budget process. We no longer budget in this country -- we govern on a piecemeal, crisis-to-crisis basis. Second, even if the president got every single item he's asked for, his so-called solution would do nothing to avert our enormous, looming, terrifying fiscal avalanche.
UPDATE - I'll be discussing this issue on this evening's editions of Your World with Neil Cavuto and The O'Reilly Factor, both on Fox News Channel.
Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson. He is co-authors with Mary Katharine Ham for their new book End of Discussion: How the Left's Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun).
Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography
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