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WH Running Out Clock on Fiscal Cliff Negotiations?

Because Republicans are more likely to be blamed for any fiscal cliff fallout, the closer they get to the deadline the more pressure they’ll be under to make concessions. Which is why the White House is slow-walking negotiations, according to John Boehner:

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) accused the White House Friday of trying to “slow-walk” the “fiscal cliff” negotiations.

Boehner said there was “no progress” in the talks just three weeks before tax hikes and spending cuts are set to kick in, and expressed frustration that President Obama hasn’t made a counter-offer to the GOP’s proposal of $800 billion in new tax revenue as part of a $2.2 trillion deficit-reduction plan. 

“This isn’t a progress report, because there’s no progress to report,” Boehner said in a brief press conference at the Capitol. 

The White House’s refusal to negotiate on tax rates has little to do with economic concerns — ending tax cuts for top earners would make barely a dent in the deficit. As Charles Krauthammer writes, it’s all part of Obama’s longer political game:

Such nonsense abounds because Obama’s objective in these negotiations is not economic but political: not to solve the debt crisis but to fracture the Republican majority in the House. Get Boehner to cave, pass the tax hike with Democratic votes provided by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and let the Republican civil war begin.

It doesn’t even matter whether Boehner gets deposed as speaker. Either way, the Republican House would be neutered, giving Obama a free hand to dominate Washington and fashion the entitlement state of his liking.

Democrats have a tough road to taking back the House in 2014. But if Republican leadership caves on tax hikes, conservative members will revolt, and incumbents up for reelection may be faced with a primary backlash. Obviously that could make it easier for Democrats to compete for the seats.

But if Republicans don’t cave, and go off the cliff, they’ll get blamed for the economic fallout. Most Democrats seem confident the GOP won’t let this happen, and will be willing to make serious concessions to avoid it. Krauthammer suggests Republicans call that bluff:

What should Republicans do? Stop giving stuff away. If Obama remains intransigent, let him be the one to take us over the cliff. And then let the new House, which is sworn in weeks before the president, immediately introduce and pass a full across-the-board restoration of the George W. Bush tax cuts.

Obama will counter with the usual all-but-the-rich tax cut — as the markets gyrate and the economy begins to wobble under his feet.

Result? We’re back to square one, but with a more level playing field. The risk to Obama will be rising and the debt ceiling will be looming. Most important of all, however, Republicans will still be in possession of their unity, their self-respect — and their trousers.

The White House will still try to blame the GOP for the economic consequences. But plenty of Democrats are already on the record arguing that going off the fiscal cliff isn’t the end of the world. If Republicans can somehow pull a better deal out of it, that could be the best of a lot of bad options.



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