The cliff looms

There was an agonizing irony to the frenzy on Capitol Hill yesterday as the late Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda and GOP leaders scurried about trying unsuccessfully to scrounge up the votes to pass a bill to avoid the fiscal cliff. Inouye, a pillar of patience and practicality, represents a time gone by — when Congress wouldn't think of coming so close to an avoidable economic disaster because members feared losing their jobs in primary challenges. Sure, some Republicans did not, and refused to budge on their tax-lowering principles to vote for a tax increase for those making more than $1 million per year simply because they were opposed, but many members conceded their vote could not pass muster in safe GOP districts with the purists in the grass roots who would surely come after them.

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There is still room for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to come to a deal with President Obama that can attract a majority of his majority, or maybe just a deal that can attract enough votes from either party, but I am not as optimistic as I felt all week for the first time in a year and a half, which I described in my column. Boehner — though not in danger of losing his job, as many Democrats enjoy insisting he will — undoubtedly has a weakened hand going forward. As I noted in my column, the elements are finally in place for a compromise, and both sides have come a long way. But to move Boehner, Obama will have to offer more spending cuts.

What should happen now is what Boehner described Thursday night: The Senate should join the debate immediately and provide the next step forward. It's high time the upper chamber got its hands dirty. Meanwhile, Boehner's hands are tied until the White House or the Senate makes a move.


Happy holidays! Ask A.B. will return in early January as the new Congress is sworn in. LET THERE BE A DEAL BY THEN! I look forward to your questions and comments in 2013 and thank you for a great 2012! Keep them coming to askab@thehill.com.