Fiscal cliff talks go to the brink, as lawmakers are optimistic for a deal; yet Republicans lack any incentive to deal; Huntsman: “GOP devoid of a soul.”; Hillary Clinton hospitalized; Turner, Smith, dismissed from Chargers
Congress remained in session over the weekend as Republican and Democratic leaders met throughout in an effort to stave off the looming slip over the edge of the fiscal cliff (or curb or slope). If a deal is not struck by midnight tonight (New Year’s Eve), all of the Bush tax cuts will expire—not just for the top 2% of earners—and hundreds of billions in draconian budget cuts will be automatically enacted.
The current fiscal cliff deal is the result of negotiations a year ago between the White House and the Gang of 12 SuperCongress, a group made of six legislators from each party, and from both chambers of Congress. The sequestration deal (or fiscal cliff/curb/slope) was put into place as a sort of poison pill; an incentive for the SuperCongress to actually come to a deal.
Writers note: My apologies for the tardiness of today’s column. Computer problems delayed its completion.
It didn’t work. Republicans never had any intention of negotiating in good faith, and here we are today.
Another sticking point in the negotiations is what to do about the debt ceiling, which Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has said the country will hit today. If the debt ceiling is not lifted—which is extremely unlikely at this point—Geithner has said that the Treasury Department will be forced to take extraordinary measures to keep the country paying its bills. Those extraordinary measures might be enough to find an additional $200 billion worth of room under the ceiling, enough for about two months worth of spending. If the debt ceiling is not raised it will mean that the U.S. will no longer be able to borrow money just to keep the lights on, running the risk of defaulting on its financial obligations.
This seems to be the actual goal of Congressional Republicans. They seem to actually want to see the country default on its obligations, regardless of the consequences. They are insisting that for every dollar the debt ceiling is raised, the president must cut one dollar in spending from Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Let’s forget the fact that Obama already offered multiple adjustments to Social Security—including chained CPI which will effectively reduce Social Security benefit payouts—and the $1 trillion that Obamacare cuts from Medicare.
Republicans in the House rejected that deal out of hand last week, and Speaker John Boehner instead opted to offer his own “Plan B,” heavily tilted in the Republicans’ favor yet still rejected by his own caucus. Nothing short of complete victory is acceptable to the Tea Party dominated Congress, and no compromises will be accepted.
“Why would I raise the debt ceiling again unless we address what put us in debt to begin with? I’m not going to raise the debt ceiling unless we get serious about keeping this country from becoming Greece, saving Social Security and Medicare,” Lindsay Graham (R-SC) told Fox News Sunday.
Someone should probably tell Senator Graham that it wasn’t Social Security and Medicare that are driving the debt and deficit, it was his beloved Bush tax cuts and two unfunded wars that did it. But let’s not let a little thing like the fact actually get in the way of good partisan rhetoric. Let’s not let actual math get in the way.
Hope springs etenral
There are signs of hope, though, faint as they may be: Even GOP stalwarts are beginning to acknowledge that their own party is mostly to blame (they’re entirely to blame, but hey, it’s a step in the right direction).
NY Times columnist/Republican pundit David Brooks said in an appearance on NBC’s “Meet The Press” that Republicans are mostly to blame:
What’s happening in Washington right now is pathetic. When you think about what the revolutionary generation did, what the civil war generation did, what the World War II generation did — we’re asking not to bankrupt our children and we’ve got a shambolic, dysfunctional process.
Most of the blame still has to go to the Republicans,” he continued. “They’ve had a brain freeze since the election. They have no strategy. They don’t know what they want. They haven’t decided what they want.
Republicans in recent days (mostly Senate Republicans) have even acknowledged that they cannot be seen as the party of only rich people, and that they must accept the fact that taxes on the wealthy are going to go up. They’ve signaled that at least some in the party understand that the optics of being the party that represents the interests of the uber wealthy will not work for them and will do serious damage in the long term.
And President Obama, in an exclusive appearance on “Meet The Press,” did what Democrats have been dying for him to do when he pointed his finger directly at Congressional Republicans as the reason no progress has been made on the debt ceiling or fiscal cliff.
“It’s been very hard for Speaker Boehner and Republican Leader McConnell to accept the fact that taxes on the wealthiest Americans should go up a little bit as part of an overall deficit reduction package,” Obama told MTP moderator David Gregory.
He noted that he had negotiated in good faith with Republicans and had moved “more than half way in order to achieve a grand bargain,” only to have any and all concessions he’s made thrown back in his face.
Obama insisted that voters in November’s election “rejected the notion that the economy grows best from the top down. They believe that the economy grows best from the middle class out.”
“At a certain point it is important for Republicans in Congress to be willing to say that we understand we’re not gonna get 100%, we are willing to compromise in a serious way in order to solve problems as opposed to being worried about the next election. “
They say that their biggest priority is to deal with the deficit in a serious way, but the way they’re behaving is that their only priority is making sure that tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans are protected. That seems to be their only, overriding unifying theme.”
Republicans, for their part, have conceded that chained CPI will not be a part of this fiscal cliff deal. But they’ve thus far refused to acknowledge any other concessions that Obama and Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi have already made.
Mitch McConnell has insisted that he’s open and ready to make a deal he’s just waiting to see what’s offered. In the meantime, he and Boehner have yet to specify any further cuts they would like to see contained in any deal, instead insisting that Obama make an offer. The trouble is that we’ve been down this road before—several times—and every time the offer has been refused out of hand and used as a cudgel against the president and Congressional Democrats. It seems unlikely that Obama will take that road again.
Instead, Boehner insists that the Senate should pass a bill already pushed through the Tea Party House, which extends all of the Bush tax cuts permanently and includes massive cuts to spending programs that benefit the least fortunate Americans. Medicaid would be decimated, and benefits to Social Security and Medicare would be slashed, as well as cutting unemployment insurance. It’s a bill that has exactly zero chance at passage in the Senate.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Obama have insisted that the House take up and pass an interim bill already passed in the Senate that extends tax breaks for those making less than $250k per year, and extends unemployment benefits for the long term unemployed. Since such a bill cannot be passed with a majority of Republicans in the House, Speaker Boehner is unlikely to bring it to the floor—despite the fact that it very likely would pass with a majority of Democrats and a handful of Republican support.
But Republicans lack incentive to cooperate, compromise
But as the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza notes, Republicans—particularly House Republicans—lack any incentive at all to compromise.
Crunching the numbers, of the 234 House Republicans elected this past November, only 15 come from districts that Obama won. In the Senate, of the 13 states where 14 Republican Senate seats will be up for grabs in 2014, Obama won only one of them (Maine, where Susan Collins remains after her Republican colleague and moderate Olympia Snowe stepped down). Romney won the other states by double digit margins.
Any Republican that goes along with a deal will likely face backlash from within their own party, including being primaried from the Right. Despite the fact that it would have disastrous consequences for the country, it is far more politically expedient for them to vote against any proposal that does not weight overwhelmingly in Republicans favor, meaning all cuts and no revenue (tax) increases.
In other words, the Tea Party is standing directly and resolutely in the path of any kind of deal, and they’re deliberately steering the country into another deep recession. Cillizza concludes:
“…..for the vast majority of Republicans in Congress, a deal is more dangerous than no deal. A deal creates the possibility of a primary challenge from their ideological right in districts and even states that, by and large, went heavily against Obama in November. No deal means they might — with the emphasis on “might” — face some blow back from constituents who want them to get something done for the good of the country and put the partisanship and politics aside.
And so, if you are wondering why congressional Republicans won’t, in the words of Obama, just “take the deal,” now you know. They have every political reason not to.
GOP devoid of a soul
Then there’s this from Jon Huntsman, the former GOP Governor of Utah, erstwhile presidential candidate and Ambassador to China under Obama: The GOP needs a major reboot.
In an interview with The Daily Telegraph of Great Britain, Huntsman lamented the Republican Party’s empty rhetoric:
“The Republican Party right now is a holding company that’s devoid of a soul and it will be filled up with ideas over time and leader will take their proper place,” he said.
“We can’t be known as a party that’s fear based and doesn’t believe in math,” he added. “In the end it will come down to a party that believes in opportunity for all our people, economic competitiveness and a strong dose of libertarianism.”
This is what’s known in Republican circles as heresy. Jon Huntsman has, like David Frum and Charlie Crist before him, now made himself an outcast that has no place in the party. I’m putting the over/under on how long it takes Huntsman to change party affiliations, as former Florida Republican Governor Crist did when he became a Democrat, at six months.
Hillary Clinton admitted to hospital for blood clot
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was admitted to the hospital due to a blood clot stemming from the concussion she suffered early in December. The clot was discovered during a routine follow up exam. She is being treated with blood thinners and is expected to remain hospitalized for the next 48 hours, according to doctors at New York Presbyterian Hospital.
It seems rather odd that Clinton has once again been hospitalized, because apparently she wasn’t ill at all. Republicans—chief among them former UN Ambassador John Bolton—accused Clinton of faking her illness so that she could avoid “potentially embarrassing appearance before Congress” on the Sept. 11 attacks on the American Mission in Benghazi, Libya.
“This is a diplomatic illness to beat the band,” Bolton said. “I mean, I hope it’s nothing serious. But this was revealed in a way I think that was not transparent and I think there’s an obligation here.”
Florida Senator Marco Rubio joined the chorus, seemingly questioning Clinton’s inability to appear before Congress in mid-December, where two of her top deputies testified in her stead.
And the lunatic fringe claims that while she may be too “sick” to testify, she’s not too sick to “party.” Never mind that the yearend vacation was scheduled for the end of the month, and that doctors had restricted her activities initially for two weeks. Also never mind the fact that the trip has now been cancelled due to health concerns.
Chargers dismiss Turner and Smith
As has been predicted for the better part of a month now, Chargers owner Dean Spanos today announced that both Head Coach Norv Turner and General Manager AJ Smith had been relieved of their duties with the club, effective immediately.
Those who have followed my columns recently know where I stand on this. It’s unfortunate that Norv Turner had to get swept up in what I believe to be AJ Smith’s misdeeds, but I completely understand why Spanos determined that a complete clean sweep was necessary.
The search for a new General Manager, according to the UT-San Diego, has been going on for the better part of a month, when Spanos first approached retired Green Bay Packers General Manager Ron Wolf to assist in the search. It’s very possible that the GM search will end with the in-house candidate, current Player Personnel Director Jimmy Raye. It would be a good choice, in my opinion, but due diligence has to done.
As for the head coaching position, my odds on favorite is Bruce Arians, who led the Indianapolis Colts to a 9-3 record and a playoff berth while head coach Chuck Pagano battled cancer. This season as the Colts’ interim coach has made him one of the hottest coaching commodities in all of football. It’s just a matter of where he decides to go.