FISCAL CLIFF DEAL: Is Obama Sandbagging The House Teabaggers?

Boehner and Obama looking pissed off.

President Obama and Speaker John Boehner

Those among the left-leaning media who proved their wonk-hood by spending New Years Eve watching C-SPAN instead of Taylor Swift, spent the first morning of 2013 expressing their scorn for President Obama’s negotiating skills.

The Huffington Post’s home page this morning links to headlines such as “Did O Blow It?” and “Negotiating Style Is ‘Worst Of All Worlds,’” along with “Disastrous Strategic Consequences.”

A New York Times editorial complains:

“This deal is a weak brew that remains far too generous to the rich and fails to bring in enough revenue to deal with the nation’s deep need for public investments.”

Paul Krugman’s blog post, titled “Conceder In Chief?,” strikes a similarly bleak view of the bargain Obama struck with the Senate Republicans:

OK, now for the really bad news. Anyone looking at these negotiations, especially given Obama’s previous behavior, can’t help but reach one main conclusion: whenever the president says that there’s an issue on which he absolutely, positively won’t give ground, you can count on him, you know, giving way — and soon, too. The idea that you should only make promises and threats you intend to make good on doesn’t seem to be one that this particular president can grasp.

And not to be outdone, “Hunter” on Daily Kos puts everything we need to know about the writer’s opinion of the deal right in the headline: “White House, Senate unveil final, even stupider ‘fiscal cliff’ deal. Vote expected tonight.

I’d like to suggest an alternate possibility, based on the repeated and demonstrated tendency of the House Teabagger Caucus to reliably take the most idiotic course possible: that President Obama is playing a longer game than we are giving him credit for.

Consider this: At this moment, the President (and his toothy, boisterous point man, Joe Biden) can honestly say that the Senate Republicans have gotten far more of what they want – at least on taxes – than the administration got. Obama said he wouldn’t budge on the $250,000 cap on the Bush tax cuts… and then he budged. Estate taxes for the riches of the rich will remain unconscionably low. Capital gains and dividend taxes, whose low rates have overwhelmingly favored the wealthy, will go up, but only slightly. Instead of the $1.6 trillion in new revenue the President started out demanding, he wound up proclaiming himself happy with a bargain that produces only $600 billion – even less than the $800 billion Speaker Boehner had proposed just a few weeks ago.

In return, the President obtained a few “wins” for the progressive side. An extension of unemployment benefits. A fix for the Alternative Minimum Tax. Extension of the Bush tax cuts for the middle class (if you can call someone making $400,000 a year “middle class”). Some other stuff.

Oh, and Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid cuts are off the table. For now. We can all bet the farm on the certainty that they’ll be back on in two short months, when we’ll be going through this all again.

Sounds pretty horrible, right?

But… the House has yet to vote on any of this.

The President has gone above and beyond the call of duty to give the Republicans in the Senate most of what they asked for, proving (to the unhappiness of much of his own base) that he is prepared to make significant concessions in the interest of preventing the nation from going into recession. He has done what he had to do – some would argue, far more than he had to do, much like a poker player folding when he’s holding a straight flush – in order to prevent the country from going over the so-called “fiscal cliff.” He’s infuriated much of the left-leaning end of the country in the process.

And yet… The bill does, still, contain plenty that the Grover Norquist acolytes (and they are legion) among the House Republicans will consider a “tax increase.” And Boehner’s own “Plan B,” remember, went down in flames just a few weeks ago – and that was set to let the Bush tax cuts expire only on those making more than $1 million per year.

Does anyone have the slightest bit of confidence that the Speaker of the House can deliver the votes to pass this bill, when he couldn’t do it with one tailor-made to appeal to his own base?

Here’s the scenario, as I see it. President Obama and the Senate leaders have done their job. No one is happy – a sure sign that compromise has been made. The immediate disaster has been averted, and the President has demonstrated his willingness to reach out to the other party and make hard sacrifices in the best interests of the American people. And then… the House Republicans torpedo the whole deal.

Sensible people, in the position in which the House Teabagger Caucus now find themselves, would realize they are being sandbagged, and would swallow their principles and fury, hold their noses, and pass the thing in the interest of national unity and legislative responsibility. Now… how many of you really think the Teabaggers are “sensible people?”

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

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