President Obama got the best of both worlds with the passage of the deal to prevent the country from going over the fiscal cliff. He got the massive tax hike on wealthier Americans that he wanted and paid for it with no spending cuts. Though he acted throughout the crisis as if he might prefer the political advantage that he would gain by a Republican refusal to pass these measures, the avoidance of the cliff prevents the economy from going into a tailspin that would blight his second term. And he accomplished all this while making Republicans looking bad with the passage of the compromise being accomplished despite overwhelming opposition from the House majority caucus.
But the president’s claim that he wouldn’t have another debate with Republicans about taxes and spending in the future was a hollow challenge. House Speaker John Boehner and other Republicans who voted for the unsatisfactory package and ensured its passage knew that the alternative was a devastating tax hike for all Americans that would harm the economy and hurt their party for years to come. Though liberals have often claimed that it was the GOP and its Tea Party faction that was holding the nation hostage, this time it was the Democrats who were the ones with a gun to the heads of the nation. It was either vote for a tax increase for some and no spending cuts or see middle class America pay a terrible price. These circumstances won’t apply in the coming months when the debt ceiling and other budgetary measures must be passed. Though the cliff bill was a win for the president, he isn’t likely to have one like this again.
Before leaving the White House to continue his Hawaii vacation, the president spoke on Tuesday night as if the House vote settled for all time the question of whether he would have to deal with Republican objections to his decidedly unbalanced approach to balancing the budget.
Far from silencing the Republicans, this debate will ensure that the House majority will be even more determined in the future to oppose the tax increases that the president has said he will push for in the future. Nor will they allow him to get anything passed without addressing the one thing that he has refused to contemplate in any serious manner: entitlement reform. He also won’t be able to count on dividing the GOP caucus as he did this time, as Speaker Boehner’s desire to do the right thing by the country estranged him from not only the Tea Partiers but much of his own leadership team. If there’s anything Obama should expect it is that this is the last time Boehner will allow House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to outflank him with most Republicans siding with him against the speaker.
That means this is also probably the last time there will be enough votes to raise taxes on anybody, especially with nothing being done about the spending problem that is at the heart of the nation’s fiscal ills.
President Obama should enjoy his victory on his plane ride to his island holiday. No amount of presidential bluster or bravado will be enough to get him another like it over the course of the coming years.