Dems can’t have it all

Somebody better tell the Democrats they can’t have it all. Yes, President Obama was reelected, but no, he doesn’t have a mandate for denying our fiscal crisis. Yes, Republicans will compromise on new taxes on the wealthy, but no, that new revenue is not enough to get us off the cliff.

As each day Republicans give more — from talk of ditching Grover Norquist’s no-new-taxes pledge to Oklahoma Republican Rep. Tom Cole’s call for Republicans to join Democrats in extending all tax cuts for those making $250,000 or less each year — Democrats dig in. They won’t budge on entitlement reform. No way. But they want a debt-ceiling increase. All at once.

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How? With 33 days to go, Democrats have not proposed one spending cut. Yet the unions, the teachers and MoveOn.org are running ads about the need to block any changes to social programs. Republicans want to raise revenues by capping deductions and closing loopholes; Democrats — including Obama — say that won’t amount to enough money. Though Republicans have publicly declared they won’t raise income tax rates, they privately concede they will likely be forced to relent on rates if Obama moves the threshold for tax increases from those earning $250,000 to $500,000 or higher. 

Let’s pretend Obama and the Democrats got what they asked for: It doesn’t pay the bill either. There is some disagreement over whether that money, returned to the federal Treasury with the expiration of tax cuts for the top 2 percent, can fund the government for one week or two. But as Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the GOP whip, wrote in a Dallas Morning News op-ed Wednesday, “according to the president’s own Treasury Department, the tax increase he is advocating would generate $85 billion in new revenue next year. By comparison, the monthly budget deficit in October was $120 billion, and the total deficit for fiscal year 2012 was roughly $1.1 trillion.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who said all entitlements should be on the table and even stated in a speech to the Center for American Progress on Tuesday that Medicare’s march to insolvency is “scary,” retreated to say entitlement reform should not be part of the deal to avert the fiscal cliff but considered as part of a larger deal next year. 

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Tuesday insisted that a debt-ceiling increase be part of the deal, saying “we would be somewhat foolish to work on something on stopping us from going over the cliff, and a month or six weeks later, the Republicans pull the same thing they did before and say, ‘We’re not going to do anything unless this happens or we don’t increase the debt ceiling’ … I agree with the president. It has to be a package deal.”

So what was supposed to be a compromise, or in Obama’s words “a balanced approach,” is now a “package” deal. Even Reid knows it would be foolish to think that with a majority in the House, Republicans will vote for that package. While they might compromise, they won’t capitulate. They won’t support new borrowing without commensurate spending cuts. If Republicans force a separate vote on the debt ceiling in late January or February — after reaching the fiscal cliff — Democrats know they won’t have anywhere to go for the money but Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security, which take up more than 60 percent of the federal budget each year.

Republicans should take Cole’s advice and refuse to give Democrats the chance to blame them for a ride over the cliff. Tax cuts will continue for 98 percent of workers, and if Democrats won’t compromise on the debt-ceiling increase, they will only have themselves to blame.


Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.