A president’s legacy

President Obama has just days to decide, or reveal, whether he will be Santa Claus or the Grinch as an anxious nation speeds past our Christmas of crisis toward the fiscal cliff.

He can choose to offer up a deal large enough to resolve not only the first cliff but the second cliff — requiring us to raise the debt ceiling — with entitlement reform that is consequential enough not only to move Republicans on tax increases, but to steer Medicare away from insolvency and the nation’s political debate away from brinkmanship, for a while at least. Or Obama can offer proposals that don’t begin to cushion the blow of new taxes for Republicans and either take us over the cliff or get at best a last-minute patch with more treacherous triggers, the kind the world has watched our country consistently fail to meet since mid-2011.

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Obama knows Republicans are likely to cave on new taxes, but they can’t admit it now. Knowing that, with just days to go to get a deal in legislative language, reviewed by both sides, whipped and passed, why dawdle with the outside game another day? Obama knows this now requires staying off the plane and away from the crowds and microphones, finally showing his hand on Medicare and assuring the GOP behind closed doors that there will be something for them to win on too.

Obama told ABC News he was confident Republicans won’t “hold middle-class taxes hostage to trying to protect tax cuts for high-income individuals,” and conceded if they move on that, “we are prepared to do some tough things on the spending side.” Like what? It’s been five weeks since the election, and everyone knows Obama won’t give on new taxes for the top two income brackets — so what else is he waiting for?

The time wasted has already undoubtedly depressed the economy this holiday season: While corporations held off hiring all year in cliff anticipation, a new Gallup poll shows 64 percent of Americans — ahem, shoppers — believe there will be a negative effect on their personal financial situation if the tax increases and spending cuts of the fiscal cliff go into effect.

Calling House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) over to the White House on Sunday didn’t seem to do much, dropping the total revenue number from $1.6 trillion to $1.4; offering corporate tax reform didn’t help either. It’s entitlement spending that Republicans are waiting for the president to address — not the Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) plan with premium support and Medicaid block grants, but an offer to raise the eligibility age and means-test in Medicare and decrease cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security, what is known as a chained consumer price index.

Obama agreed to two of the three entitlement reforms the GOP seeks in July 2011, yet the White House continues spinning that it must wait on Boehner and his crazy conference of conservatives. As one senior administration official told The New York Times, “It’s not like there’s another path; he’s the Speaker of the House.” The truth is it’s not Boehner’s move; the path is for Obama to give something Boehner can get passed, or we go over the cliff. If Obama wants to go over the cliff in January and get new taxes across the board, he will be forced into a far larger deal for a debt-ceiling increase then, and we will all ride out the sadly intentional consequences of his failure to be bold. For Obama, continuing the fight one hour into 2013 means fighting with Republicans throughout 2013.

Obama doesn’t need the left; he just won reelection. But he does need a legacy.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.

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