The fiscal cliff drama could turn out to be the bane of Obama’s presidency

The fiscal cliff drama could turn out to be the bane of Obama’s presidency

On Monday, New York Times columnist Jeff Zeleny was a guest “all-star panelist” on FOX News Channel’s Special Report with Bret Baier and made an interesting observation. Reacting to the White House’s summary rejection of the GOP plan to bring the nation back from the brink of the fiscal cliff, Zeleny observed that nearly a full month remained for negotiations, adding that “in Washington that’s a lifetime.”

It’s a long way down.

That may well be, but with both sides dug in, the likelihood of an eleventh hour compromise of the sort Zeleny envisions is small and fading fast. The White House has made it clear—most recently through a comment to The Times by Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer—that “the president won’t sign a deal that doesn’t have higher rates for the wealthy.” Hear that, Republicans? No closing of loopholes will be taken seriously. No alternative revenue sources, noting, nada. It’s the rich pay more, or fasten your seat belts and prepare for a jolt.

More than one observer has insisted that the president has the longer and stronger hand in this debate. Indeed he might. As Dustin noted earlier, a newly released Washington Post/Pew Research poll indicates he has the court of public opinion on his side. The percentage of respondents who said that the GOP would (and should) take the blame if the nation tumbles into the precipice was 53%. Coincidentally, that’s the same percentage that told pollsters in September that they favored tax increases on the wealthiest Americans.

Yet it is easy to envision two possible scenarios in which the whole fiscal cliff brouhaha comes back to bite the president:

Scenario 1: The Republicans give in on tax hikes for the top 2% (yes, it could happen). While this might seem at first blush to be the best of all world’s for the president, who ran on this promise, suppose Republicans turn out to be right: that the increase on the job-creating sector inhibits growth and investment. A second recession becomes a real possibility. It is unlikely that the blame-Bush argument will have legs in Obama’s second term.

Scenario 2: The nation plunges over the fiscal cliff, and all Bush-era tax cuts expire. Democrats will immediately set to work legislating new tax cuts that apply to the 98% only. The Republicans in the House, already chastened by having allowed Taxmageddon to occur, will face the Hobson’s choice of having to deny tax breaks to the middle class or giving in to the Democrats’ demands. If they give in, Scenario 1 may ensue. If they don’t, a second recession is almost certain anyway.

As to who gets the blame, keep history in mind. In the view of most people, the president is the face of the government. When times are tough, it is the man at the top—not some amorphous legislative body—who becomes the target of their ire. Unless Obama undergoes a personality transplant, he is going to have to countenance the unpalatable reality of being seen as the man who allowed the country to fail.

Other scenarios are of course possible. But there is little reason to suppose that the same tax-and-spend policy that informed the first Obama term is going to yield a different result the second time. The president may come to rue the day he demanded that the richest “pay a little bit more” to satisfy some misbegotten notion of fairness.

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Howard Portnoy

Howard Portnoy

Howard Portnoy has written for The Blaze, HotAir, NewsBusters, Weasel Zippers, Conservative Firing Line, RedCounty, and New York’s Daily News. He has one published novel, Hot Rain, (G. P. Putnam’s Sons), and has been a guest on Radio Vice Online with Jim Vicevich, The Alana Burke Show, Smart Life with Dr. Gina, and The George Espenlaub Show.

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