Last week’s election results did not change my opinion that we’re more likely to go over the fiscal cliff than to avoid it.
Yes, I heard the less defiant tone Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, has used to talk about the cliff. Yes, I heard the president use the word “revenues” instead of “taxes.” And, yes, I read the conclusions from many of the same pundits who were so wrong on the elections saying that the new tone and the use of revenues instead of taxes indicates that a deal is just around the corner.
But the fundamentals of the fiscal cliff situation haven’t changed that much since before the elections. In spite of outward appearances that an agreement is more likely, there are as many new reasons to conclude that preventing the cliff from going into effect and being the worst fiscal policy since an austerity plan was implemented prematurely at the end of the Great Depression is still more likely to happen after than before it occurs.
Some things about the fiscal cliff were never going to change no matter what happened in the elections.
The limited time between the start of the lame-duck session and when the cliff begins obviously couldn’t change. The fiscal cliff is still only about six weeks away as the crow flies, and closer to four weeks when you subtract Thanksgiving, Christmas and the time the House and Senate will devote to organizing for the next Congress.
Also, as was fully expected before the elections, there are still a large number of incumbents who, because they lost or decided not to run again, are true lame-duck members of Congress whose attention will increasingly be focused elsewhere over the next six weeks. That makes their votes on anything having to do with the fiscal cliff unreliable; some may not show up to vote at all.
The White House continues to have considerable political leverage over congressional Republicans, perhaps the most it has had since President Barack Obama took the oath of office in 2009. This is also the most leverage the Obama administration may ever have on spending, taxes, the deficit and national debt — and that means a big White House move toward the GOP position on any cliff-related issue is as unlikely now as it was before.
That was what’s the same. Now add the following new developments.
First, the largely unexpected increase in their majority means Senate Democrats have less incentive to compromise on anything considered in the lame duck-session — before we reach the fiscal cliff. That makes avoiding the cliff less of an imperative for Democrats now than it was before.
Second, there also appears to be a growing realization among House Republicans that they have become the last bastion of GOP power in Washington and that it will be jeopardized by a compromise with the White House to avoid the fiscal cliff.
This new and apparently growing mindset is that, while GOP control of the White House and Senate may be long shots in the next few cycles, Republicans can be relatively certain of having a majority in the House as long as the party’s base enthusiastically shows up at the polls.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.