Public wants a deal, but politicians appear not to

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The stakes could not be more stark: if Congress and the president reach a Grand Bargain, economists predict 3 percent growth in GDP by the end of 2013; if we tumble over the fiscal cliff, a second recession is probable, due to the double whammy of across the board tax hikes and deep sequestration cuts.

Let’s put a spotlight on the politics attending a failure to reach agreement. First, let’s describe this for what it is –more a house of cards created for politicians, by politicians to address their political needs, than a fiscal cliff. This artifice around the Bush taxes and sequestration cuts, emerged from the political wreckage of the debt limit crisis in the summer of 2011.

My point is simply this, both parties have a lot to lose politically and they should start focusing on that to avoid a deadlock induced double dip recession.

Public opinion sees the essence of this divide rather clearly. Gallup reported on December 10 that 70 percent of Americans want a compromise to be forged. The NBC News/WSJ poll of December 6-9, found 59 percent in favor of Obama’s position on the Bush tax cuts, with 65 percent in favor reducing the deficit with a mix of increased taxes on the wealthy tied to reduced federal spending, while 68 percent supported cutting taxes for those earning $250,000 or less. 

Pew Research revealed on December 4, the public’s melancholy: by 49-40 percent the American people felt the president and Congress would not reach agreement to avoid falling over the fiscal cliff and 53 percent felt the Republicans in Congress would be more to blame vs. 27 percent for President Obama, with only 12 percent saying they would blame both equally.

The country is poised to blame the Republicans in Congress if gridlock blocks an agreement. Does the GOP really want its congressional wing to lead them once again onto the ground of obstructionism? Is this wise footing as the electorate is poised to grow towards being 54 percent female, 30 percent people of color and at least 20 percent under 30 by 2016?   

Alternatively, the Democrats should not become either complacent or resistant to compromise. I wrote of the prospect of a McKinleyesque realignment under Obama on these pages on November 12, and now Time Magazine’s Man of the Year profile trumpets that same theme. Meanwhile, that potential realignment undergirded by female, minority and younger voters, is predicated upon the Democrats being able to hold their own amongst suburban voters. 

When Democrats repel suburban voters, as they did in 2010, Democrats lose elections. These voters have relatively high incomes, but also heavy expenses (e.g., mortgages, property taxes and expensive college tuitions for their children). In short, suburban voters are market sensitive voters. These voters would be enraged by a politically induced recession adversely affecting markets.

The only way for the Democrats to take advantage of the political demographics attending this realignment opportunity, is to become the steward of a true economic recovery in Obama’s second term. The aspirations of the Democratic Party have ironically become contingent upon building the confidence of America’s corporate leaders to invest a large portion of that $1.74 trillion in liquid assets. 

If, however, the economy tanks in a self-induced recession on their watch, Democrats could taste the bitter ashes of Grover Cleveland and Woodrow Wilson’s second terms, rather than the sweet nectar of realignment. 

Sam Irvin reminded us in Watergate of the biblical admonition, “Whatsoever a man soweth, he shall also reap.”  Therefore, to the president and Congress, I offer a prayerful admonition, if not for the country, which should be motivation enough, your political self-interest compels that a compromise is reached to avert a collapsing house of cards masquerading as a fiscal cliff.           

Gyory is a political consultant with Corning Place Communications in Albany, New York, and an adjunct professor of Political Science at the University of Albany.


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