So much for the holiday deadline, which always seemed a little optimistic anyway. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor emerged from a caucus meeting to declare that the fiscal-cliff negotiations are going very, very slowly — and that Republicans would stick around past Christmas in case Barack Obama decides to start negotiating seriously:
House Republican leaders on Wednesday warned their members that they might have to return to Washington after Christmas, claiming that “serious differences” remained in negotiations to avoid the “fiscal cliff.”
“The president seems to be walking us ever so slowly towards the cliff,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told reporters after a closed-door conference meeting.
“We’ve said we’re committed to staying here. We’re going to stay here right up until Christmas Eve and throughout the time period before the new year because we want to make sure we resolve this in an acceptable way for the American people,” he added.
Allahpundit outlined Obama’s latest offer last night, which is a non-starter for Republicans. John Boehner said that a proposal for $1.4 trillion in new revenue wouldn’t pass the Senate, let alone the House, and called for more responsible negotiating from the White House:
“The president’s called for $1.4 trillion in revenue. That cannot pass the House or the Senate,” he said.
“We’ve been reasonable and responsible in our approach to this, and we’re going to continue to do that. It’s time for the president to do his part,” Boehner said.
Revenue is only one side of the problem. Both sides have agreed in principle that some spending has to be cut, but neither side wants to show its hands — and both want the other to go first. Republicans demanded that Obama disclose his cuts along with his demand for more revenue, but Obama insists that Republicans go on record with the cuts, especially since they clearly want more reductions than the White House. Otherwise, they may decide to just scrap the fight over tax rates, allow Obama to get what he wants, and save the spending-cut fight for the debt-ceiling debate in two months.
That still won’t get Republicans off the hook, says Bloomberg’s Joshua Green:
That’s because, although a debt-limit fight wouldn’t pit the rich against the middle class in quite the same way as the fight over tax cuts, it would force Republicans to enumerate and defend precisely the entitlement cuts they are desperate to obscure. And they’d be doing so in a way guaranteed to maximize attention, because they’d be threatening to tank the economy — a far scarier prospect than going over the fiscal cliff.
Furthermore, it’s not at all clear that they would be any better off forcing entitlement cuts than they would be trying to force tax cuts for the rich. It’s true, as Republicans point out, that most people want to do something about the deficit. But polls show that Americans overwhelmingly favor raising taxes on the rich — and preserving programs like Medicare and Social Security.
For the time being, Republicans are ignoring this dissonance between their own desire and what the public is likely to accept. But as the default date looms, that tradeoff will become ever more explicit, and there’s no reason to imagine that it will become any more popular. Quite the opposite, in fact, which is why their best hope to cut entitlements is to negotiate for them now with a president more willing to concede them than most Republicans seem to understand.
At some point, both sides have to lay cards on the table, and that will happen whether or not we go over the fiscal cliff. Why not just pull the Band-Aid off now and get it over with?