Nov. 7, House Speaker John Boehner announced that Republicans in the lower chamber would accept a deal to solve the fiscal cliff that included new revenue, castor oil for conservatives by another name. Four weeks hence, Boehner is still waiting, hand extended, for President Obama to meet him in the middle of the road.
Obama has been unwilling to even hint that he’ll ask the same compromise from his liberal base as he expects Boehner to extract from conservatives. Boehner says his negotiations with the White House are at “stalemate” - an indication the president has no intention of cutting a deal that could win the votes of the conservatives who voters put in charge of the federal purse.
The president, according to a front-page New York Times piece on Dec. 2 by Peter Baker “is trying to leverage what he claims as an election mandate.” In doing, Obama seems intent on ignoring the other clear election outcome - the fiscal chaperones the voters have shackled to him in two straight elections for the U.S. House.
If Obama won’t accept the mandate that he negotiate a compromise with the voters’ preferred House majority, perhaps Boehner should let him try to negotiate a deal with the House minority. That might be the Republicans’ best gambit on this chessboard.
Why not find out what kind of fiscal cliff legislation Obama could craft that could earn the votes of every single one of the lower chamber’s incoming 201 Democrats? Once the president has 201 votes, he’d need to find just 17 Republicans to go along with him.
During the Bush administration, Democrats forced Republicans to muster party unity on the president’s toughest legislative sells before they gave any real help. Partisan-minded Democrats, like then-Senator Obama, were thus free to cast showy votes against “must-pass” legislation like raising the debt ceiling while a small number of pragmatic Democrats helped Bush keep the government running.
Why should Obama be spared quarter he, himself, would not give George Bush?
The reason Obama has no taste for a Democrats-first solution is that he tried that route before and it yielded the 2010 mid-term election boomerang. Obama negotiated his 2009 stimulus and his health care law with an eye toward uniting congressional Democrats and the result both times were left-wing overreach that the public soundly rejected.
Perhaps Republicans should seek that same exposure again. The Obama who had to outsource his policy to wacky liberals in the Progressive Caucus was an Obama who enraged swing voters. That same Obama is still in the White House as evidenced by his desire for yet another $50 billion in short term stimulus spending in the midst of a conversation ostensibly about spending cuts.
Congressional Republican leaders have complained in recent days that Obama will not produce a fully fleshed-out fiscal cliff plan of his own. As Baker’s Times lede said, Obama is telling House Republicans “you first.”
But House Republicans hold the one power that can force Obama’s hand - control of the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, where all revenue measures must begin, according to the Constitution.
Having reached an impasse in their good faith effort, why shouldn’t Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Boehner offer Obama a free shot at his own solution? They could schedule a full day of debate on the House floor to debate whatever fiscal cliff plan the president desires. If Obama and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi can muster 201 Democrats to vote for a plan, surely the persuasive president could find 17 Republicans to help, right?
This exposure would put the fiscal cliff debate in a more balanced light for the American public, revealing the one important angle the mainstream media has ignored. The president is negotiating like he’s a hostage to the left wing of his party, so Republicans should force the press to broadcast the demands of the ransom note.
Control of the legislative calendar is one of the few levers Republicans fully control in this standoff and using it is the kind of theater it takes to out-bully the guy with the bully pulpit.
In 2005, George Bush emerged from his re-election claiming a mandate for private-sector reform of Social Security. He soon found out neither the country, nor the elected members of Congress, were with him. Obama, seemingly unable to reconcile the reality of voter-delivered divided government, is due a similar comeuppance. House Republicans should let him get it.