President Obama said in his radio address today that going over the so-called financial cliff “would be bad for families, it would be bad for businesses, and it would drag down our entire economy.” “Bad all around,” as Sam Spade would say.
Most people understand this. The question is, how far will Obama go to avoid “the cliff.”
On this question, Obama said that he will not sign a package that does not include a rate increase on wealthy Americans. “That’s one principle I won’t compromise on,” he reiterated.
Everyone understands this too. The question is, what compromises is Obama prepared to make by way of spending cuts and entitlement reform?
On this question, Obama said, “I’m willing to find ways to bring down the cost of health care without hurting seniors and other Americans who depend on it, and I’m willing to make more entitlement spending cuts on top of the $1 trillion dollars in cuts I signed into law last year.”
However, Obama apparently has not been willing to propose specific, meaningful spending cuts on entitlements or anything else. Signaling vaguely that he is willing to make some cuts falls short of the leadership we should expect from a president. It looks more like posturing.
Perhaps Obama is waiting for Republicans to signal that they are willing to compromise on raising tax rates. But Republican leaders can’t provide Obama with any assurances that Republican members will compromise on tax rates until he has moved significantly off of his laughable initial proposal, which amounted to a call for total surrender by Republicans.
The stridency of Obama’s initial position convinced many Republicans, quite plausibly, that Obama doesn’t mind going over the fiscal cliff, as long as he can blame Republicans. Indeed, some believe, not altogether implausibly, that Obama would rather go off the cliff than avoid it, as long as he can blame Republicans.
If Republicans continue to suspect that Obama is bargaining in bad faith, a compromise seems unlikely. And Obama’s latest posturing isn’t likely to change Republican perceptions in this regard.