There’s no doubt that in the coming months, lawmakers will issue breathless warnings about the looming “fiscal cliff.” But what is in question is who will win a policy and political battle that’s played out in déjà-vu-like ways during the past two years — if anyone can win at all.
Although sequestration, the automatic across-the-board discretionary spending cuts set to kick in starting in January, is the name of the current game, Democrats and Republicans are preparing to articulate their differences using talking points on revenues and spending cuts they’ve honed this Congress through a series of fiscal crises largely of their own making.
And with relatively few legislative days left between now and the elections, and very little feasible legislation to be done anyway, lawmakers will yet again spend most of their energy talking about revenues, spending cuts and fiscal solvency. They’ll also try to demonstrate to the American people that they’ve learned something from the multiple crises along the way.
“I’m here to say you’re the commander in chief, not me. You should be leading this charge, not me. I will be a willing partner to any Democrat, including the president, to fix this,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a leading opponent of the $500 billion defense sequester, last week at a Foreign Policy Initiative event. “Yes, I’m willing to put revenues on the table, but we’re not going to increase tax rates.”
In one statement, Graham — who voted against last summer’s Budget Control Act that put into motion the sequester — demonstrated the tack the GOP will use going forward, according to sources. They will show enough flexibility on revenue to say they’re operating in good faith while also trying to put the burden on the president.
Republicans, including the 28 in the Senate and 174 in the House who voted for the sequester, have done a good job to date arguing against the defense cuts, using top Obama administration officials such as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to bolster their case.
But Democrats are beginning to fight back, too, making sure to draw attention to the domestic side of the cuts as well, which could affect social programs that are the base’s bread and butter. There’s still some residual frustration on their part on what the party has given up in high-level negotiations, such as agreeing to a cuts-only approach to raising the debt ceiling and avoiding a government shutdown, while not getting much in return for other big concessions. Those other concessions include extending the Bush tax rates in the last lame-duck session.