Hysteria can make heretofore inflexible Democrats more so. It’s already had a transformational effect on congressional Republicans. Senate Republicans, even those such as Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia who are facing potential primaries, know that sequestration-mandated defense cuts will hurt far more of their middle- and low-income constituents than high-income earners whimpering about seeing deductions for mortgage interest or charitable contributions scaled back (or marginal rates increased). Other GOP senators are similarly positioned. Hysteria over across-the-board defense cuts to personnel and defense contractors and the effect they will have on job losses—direct and indirect—will go viral faster than “Gangnam Style.”
This is why Republicans and their backers in business crave a big deal. They’ve held off the higher tax revenue wave as long as possible. They will trade it for entitlement savings and less-aggressive defense cuts. U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue met on Monday with Obama’s top economic advisers in sessions that Donohue’s allies describe as “very constructive.” Donohue wants a grand bargain and may be asked to provide political cover to Republicans who support raising taxes. John Engler, head of the Business Roundtable, got similarly good vibrations from White House meetings on Monday. Together, the two business groups could provide more political cover than Chris Christie’s fleece.
One last advantage of hysteria: It won’t come again and it won’t possess its current potency—which means the accumulated sense of relief and forgiveness of politicians who avert a cliff catastrophe will never be as great.