Hello Loyal Readers,
So there is a great deal of hubbub about the fiscal cliff. Did we go over? I heard there was a deal, what is going on? Did Obama cave? What does that even mean? Have no fear, I will try to break this down for you folks in my new-ish segment, “Keep It Simple, Sweeney.”
Yes, that’s the title for the new column. It will have a logo at some point, still working on that.
The fiscal cliff can really be boiled down to a struggle between two men: Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA). Speaker Boehner has been struggling to maintain control of the House Republicans ever since he took the big gavel in 2010. The main source of conflict has been between the old guard Republicans in Congress, many of them elected during the Newt Gingrich revolution or during the 2002 Bush surge, who are loyal to Boehner and installed him as Speaker, and the Tea Party representatives that Eric Cantor helped get elected in 2010. Boehner, to appease them and cement his power, installed Eric Cantor as his second in command in the House.
Cantor has steadily pushed for zero compromise with the Obama White House or with the Senate Democrats. Boehner, while also committed to obstruction, at least made some efforts to bargain on bills. When he and the president sat down to discuss the debt ceiling in 2011, Boehner kept proposing deals and Obama would say, “Do you have the votes?” and Cantor would pop up and say, “No.” The president then asked if he should be negotiating with Cantor instead. Boehner got all snarly and kicked everyone out of the room but the president and himself. They worked out a deal, but Boehner had to plead with Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to produce the votes from the Democratic side of the fence to get the debt ceiling raised, since he didn’t have enough sway over his own people to pass the compromise.
Now flash forward to the fiscal cliff negotiations this year. There was a great deal of back and forth, offers and counteroffers, but really only two things of substance occurred. One, John Boehner tried to fix the fiscal cliff on his own. He tried to pass “Plan B” which would extend the Bush tax cuts for everyone, rich and poor. That failed to get enough votes to pass. Guess why? Cantor wanted more concessions from the Democrats and helped sabotage the effort.
Then, today, Obama and Boehner announced they had a deal. It would allow the Bush tax cuts to expire on income over $400,000, it would fix the capital gains (money you make in the stock market) tax at Clinton-era levels, and it would delay most of the brutal cuts for two months. Personally, I think the Democrats could have gotten quite a bit more, but no matter what I think, Eric Cantor declared war.
Cantor is stepping up from vicious backstabbing friend of Boehner to openly opposing him and this deal. He would rather see all the tax rates go up than this deal move forward. He has put out a statement and is rapidly gathering support in his efforts to kill this deal.
So why is this so heated? Because next week, the House Republicans vote for who will be their Speaker of the House for the next two years. Right now, it is between Cantor and Boehner. That’s right, they are in election mode but the only people who can vote are Republican members of Congress.
But what about the Democrats, you ask? Well, they are doing the political equivalent of standing on the sidelines of a schoolyard brawl and shouting, “Are you going to let him get away with that?” and “I think Cantor just said something about your mother!” Reid has leaked negotiation details to the press, Pelosi has openly taunted Boehner about his complete lack of control over his caucus.
So that’s where we are. The grand bargain will probably fail, the fiscal cliff will kick in, pundits will panic, and after the Speaker of the House election, a solid solution can be hammered out. Until then, expect more empty posturing than an interpretive dance competition between Pete Kremen and Sam Taylor.