Closing in on compromise


Sure, progress was halted Tuesday, “Plan B” has infuriated members of both parties and the White House has issued a veto threat. But there are unmistakable signs Democrats and Republicans will give once again for a final deal, and that just after Santa Claus puts his tired feet up next week, compromise is coming to town.

The fiscal cliff and its consequences, after all, are still an unknown, and not something Republican leaders appear willing to own. Polls consistently show the GOP losing the political battle over the debate every week since the Nov. 6 election. But there are consequences for failure for President Obama as well — before being sworn in to his second term, he is focused squarely on legacy-building, hoping he can make ambitious strides in the year to come and take a victory lap at his inauguration for forging a grand debt deal.

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As the players continue to posture, it’s heartening to see that the Club for Growth and the AFL-CIO are both angry, evidence we are finally getting somewhere indeed. Republicans have put $1 trillion in revenue on the table, while Obama has moved from tax increases for anyone making more than $250,000 to hikes for those making more than $400,000. Now that he has budged off of $250,000, there is room for more give, to be sure. Democrats are angry Obama also agreed to a new formula for measuring inflation for Social Security, what is known as a chained Consumer Price Index (CPI). He reined it in, producing smaller savings, by insisting it would exempt vulnerable populations like veterans and the disabled, but considering that he is the one who pitched a chained CPI to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in their July 2011 negotiations, count on it being included, and likely adjusted again.

In concept, the White House has, surprisingly, agreed to Boehner’s insistence on a 1-1 ratio of spending cuts to tax increases, though it is still short a few billion and using funny federal government math. One of those proposals is to count interest on the reduced debt we ultimately don’t expect to pay as savings — something the GOP recently agreed to but is now peeved over. It is the same irritation being displayed by Senate Democrats who voted for the Buffett Rule but are now scoffing at the House GOP “Plan B” that includes the exact same tax threshold of $1 million the Democrats supported in July. 

There is time and room to abandon all of this silliness, and those close to the process predict a deal. But the president will indeed need to provide more meaningful cuts. Republicans, still unhappy about raising rates, will insist on “verifiable” spending cuts to cushion the blow. It’s more than likely Obama will give in to them, because he doesn’t want a debt-ceiling fight in February when all his cliff-related, tax-increase leverage is gone. Obama knows a debt-ceiling increase now means a real chance for immigration reform and gun-control legislation in 2013, but an extended fight could dim prospects for his entire second term.

Finally, members of both parties are suddenly feeling tremendous pressure to behave like grown-ups. The constituents of every red and blue district in the country are mourning the tragedy of Newtown, Conn., after urging their representatives for weeks to unite and avert the cliff. Choosing gridlock (at best — a recession would be worse) seems outrageously petty now.

The end of 2012 wasn’t exactly the season to be jolly, but it looks increasingly likely that the year will end in cooperation and some badly needed stability. Not as bad, chances are, as the Mayans expected it 


Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.