Here we go again. Another lame duck session, another predictable round of Republican attempts to shut down the government over the deficit they created. Didn't we just do this in 2010? Oh yeah, we did. And predictably, Obama's liberal base wants him to jump hand in hand with Boehnor, Cantor and Mitch over the fiscal cliff into the unknown doomsday scenario the Republicans are once again using for leverage.
But as it was with the first extension of unemployment checks and Bush tax cuts, and the 2011 debt ceiling, so it shall be with this round of "OMG Gubberment Shutdown!" debates. Obama, will "cave" (as many in his camp squeal) and move the date of the doomsday scenario forward another year or so, crippling his presidency. If that were the whole story, then yeah, I'd be angry right along with you guys. Of course it's not the whole story. Try to control your knee-jerk reaction for just a second and read past the fancy 19th centuryish swirl thingie.
First off, lets establish that we're playing chess, not checkers. Our objective is not to win more battles than the Republicans, its to win the war. In this case its a war against the Republican objective to effectively dismantle Medicare, Social Security, Obamacare, the EPA and every other part of the government that doesn't leave the people to the whims of the 1 percent. This is chess, so we can afford to lose a few pieces so that we draw our opponent in for the final blow. With every turn we attempt to move toward our ultimate goal, even if that means we take some blows along the way. Chess is a thinking man's game, it takes a long time to play. Similarly, in these budget fights, Obama's thinking about the long haul.
Lets examine the President's strategy: In the first budget fight, Republicans wanted to extend the Bush tax cuts for everyone. The Democrats wanted to extend unemployment benefits and renew the START treaty. There was a great deal of debate... and something happened. What did we end up with? We got START, the unemployment extension, and what else.... what else... oh yeah, DADT was repealed! All for maintaining the tax status quo at the time. Essentially, we offered nothing, and the Republicans got nothing. We got a whole lot of something for nothing! That's what I call a deal in my favor. Okay so the deficit went up a little bit. Who cares? Suddenly liberals and progressives care about the deficit now? Excuse me! I thought we were arguing that the deficit didn't really matter!
After that was the debt ceiling fight. Well, Obama almost got to a deal back in 2011, but to no avail. So to raise the debt ceiling congress created the sequester. Nothing for nothing there. Not a bad or good deal, because there wasn't really a deal at all. But in the sense that there was a deal, both sides agreed to a lame duck rematch, betting that their side would win the election and have the leverage in the sequester fight. Obama won the election, so he had the leverage.
But wait- before we discuss what happened today, lets take a moment to dwell on what the Republicans have gotten for all their kicking and screaming in the past two budget fights:
Oh that's right. Nothing. Not one red cent. Sure, they've been snipping at the margins here and there with various bills, but nothing at all substantial. They've been taking down pawns on the chessboard the same way they would checkers on a checkerboard. Like a novice at chess, Republicans are working to aimlessly hack away at their opponent's ranks thinking it will lead to some sort of advantage. A skilled player will recognize this and strategically sacrifice pawns or even more substantial pieces to get into the position he desires to deal the final blow. In these budget battles, we may be at that point now.
Lets discuss what happened (and is still happening) today. Yesterday, Mitch McConnell and Obama reached a deal that did 3 main things: It ends the Bush tax cuts for those making over $400K, it raised the estate tax for those with estates greater than 5 million, and extends unemployment benefits for another year. For this, the Republicans gained... nothing.
That's right, nothing. Yes, the sequester is extended for only 60 days, but that bumps right up against the debt ceiling... something the Republicans were going to fight over anyway. The media common wisdom is that the Republicans gained "leverage" in this deal. How so? Obama just combined two potential clusterf*cks into one! He gained a years worth of unemployment benefits, tax hikes on the 1%, and an estate tax hike; all for making his job easier in the long term.
In March, Obama's sure to push for a big compromise in order to rid himself of both the sequester and the debt limit. Because the congress has already passed the 1% tax hikes, and unemployment benefits, Obama and Senate Democrats will likely want something else for the chained Social Security CPI.
Wait. Chained CPI? Yes, the chained CPI the Republicans originally wanted in exchange for the tax hikes... that... they just gave away for free (if the house passes them today). All they got for giving away those tax hikes is the sequester being put right up against the debt limit- effectively making the sequester and debt limit one deal... which if you remember (stay with me here)... is what Obama wanted the whole time.
Remember? Obama wanted the debt limited to be raised with the elimination of the sequester. This is essentially raising the limit along with eliminating the sequester, only now he's getting more of what he wants when the debate starts because he's already got the tax hikes and the unemployment extension!
Not only that, but now he has two major speeches between now and then to set the debate squarely in his favor.
Chess, not checkers.
EDIT: Appreciate all the support and all the comments (in agreement and disagreement). I wanted to add a component I felt was missing to the cliff deal discussion and it appears I've done that.
One thing I'd like to add though that I failed to mention in the initial publication (it was late and I was tired) is the sentiment that many commentators below have mentioned: The very real fact is that had Obama not forged a deal UI, EIC and a whole lot of other tax credits would have immediately stopped without any real warning. To the average American still recovering from the Bush economy this would have been devastating. These tax credits and UI are keeping many Americans in their homes and food on the table. Obama, as the leader of the country won't sacrifice those Americans just to one-up the Republicans. That's the principal reason why he keeps making these deals.
Sure, it'd be interesting to see as a case-study what would happen in Dems' called the R's bluff and jumped off the fiscal cliff or ignored the debt limit- but I have to remember that my family makes over $200K a year collectively. This deal isn't for me. It's for the poor and lower-middle class. To intentionally subject those living paycheck to paycheck to such Washington brinksmanship would be deplorable, and I'm sure Obama recognizes that as well.