Barack Obama is scheduled to speak on the “fiscal cliff” at 1:15 pm ET today, which means of course that it will probably start closer to 1:30. If so, that won’t be the only familiar aspect of the conversation today. We’ve been here at least twice during the Obama administration — once immediately after the 2010 midterms, and then again during the summer of 2011. We’re having this conversation today because we keep kicking the same can down the same road in order to avoid the political consequences of addressing the budgetary and fiscal crises that face the nation.
Will this be any different? Both sides now say they want to work together, but National Journal’s Major Garrett writes that it will take something for which Obama hasn’t displayed any capacity in four years — flexibility:
Obama has a durable coalition and an undisputed knack for mobilization. He is a campaign innovator and organizer of the first order. But to succeed on his own checklist of second-term pursuits—immigration, tax reform, deficit reduction, and climate change—he will have to do more with the institutional powers of the presidency in conflict with the legislative powers wielded by a Republican House.
The conundrum for Obama is that if he is to succeed, he must decide whether to use his reelection’s apparent endorsement of progressivism as a safe harbor of inactivity or dilute it, to the consternation of his base, and give some ground on the scope and generosity of the entitlement state, the strangling cords of debt, and the inefficiency of the tax code. Democrats sense an Obama desire to shape-shift, but no one is quite sure. That means that the biggest tell in the poker game of all poker games will be found in the lame-duck resolution, or irresolution, of the fiscal cliff.
The president will have to summon his coalition to face hard realities and fateful choices, not all of them comforting, on the questions of aligning what government can do, what taxpayers can finance, and how the books all come into better balance.
Garrett also points out that the economy is now squarely Obama’s, and any damage done now will be owned by the Democrats, not George Bush:
Obama can and will press for immigration reform, and he may get nearly as much as President George W. Bush sought—maybe more, if Republicans shift their sights to their party’s huge demographic hole that the 2012 election starkly revealed among Hispanics. Obama can wrap his arms around the task of reforming the byzantine tax code and, along the way, spike the political football after having won the fight over higher taxes on the wealthy (he did, and so did Senate Democratic victors in Massachusetts, North Dakota, Ohio, andWisconsin). But he will have to face the hard reality that higher taxes on the wealthy (even at a $250,000 threshold that may give way to $500,000 or $1 million in congressional negotiations) won’t come close to solving the nation’s deficit and debt ills. The greatest deficit-cutting mechanism is a vibrant economy (see Clinton-era growth, arithmetic). And no matter how much or how little Obama moves the hinge of history, his party will not be able four years hence to blame Bush the younger for economic underperformance.
The economy is now squarely Obama’s, and managing the full implementation of the health care and financial-reform laws will be daunting. Both have profound and as-yet-unfelt tax and regulatory implications.
Will he recognize this and offer some “flexibility” today in search of long-term solutions? Or will he declare a mandate for tax hikes and offer only the same lip service to serious reform that Obama barely mentioned during his presidential campaign, and which didn’t even rate a serious mention in the second-term agenda pamphlet that showed up in the last two weeks of the election? And will the press get a chance to ask a few questions of their own — especially about Benghazi?
If I can find a live embed, I will include it in the post.