Tuesday, January 1, 2013

So Deal?

Happy New Year... And Happy "Cliff-mas"? While I wouldn't quite call this a "happy ending", at least resolution is near. It's all on the House now.

In a New Year’s Day drama that climaxed in the middle of the night, the Senate endorsed the legislation by 89-8 early Tuesday. That vote came hours after Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky sealed a deal.

It would prevent middle-class taxes from going up but would raise rates on higher incomes. It would also block spending cuts for two months, extend unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless, prevent a 27 percent cut in fees for doctors who treat Medicare patients and prevent a spike in milk prices.

The measure ensures that lawmakers will have to revisit difficult budget questions in just a few weeks, as relief from painful spending cuts expires and the government requires an increase in its borrowing cap.

House Speaker John Boehner pointedly refrained from endorsing the agreement, though he’s promised a vote on it or a GOP alternative right away. But he was expected to encounter opposition from House conservatives, and it was unclear when the vote would occur.

Boehner planned to brief his caucus in early afternoon Tuesday and Biden scheduled a separate meeting with House Democrats to reprise his role of Monday night when he promoted compromise to Democrats before that chamber voted.

So at some point today, the House will vote on the Senate compromise... Or it might not. Even now, there's STILL a chance of this deal falling through the cracks, especially if Boehner guts this deal and replaces it with unrelated absurdity.

But so far, it looks like "The Fiscal Cliff" will at least temporarily be averted. If Boehner really blows up this deal, then he's even stupider than I originally gave him credit for. At this point, not even his #1 fans (Wall Street) want to drag this out any longer.

What's frustrating about this is that "The Fiscal Cliff" will likely return to the forefront just in time for my birthday. Yay, Happy Birthday to me! So there may yet be another fight over this nonsense when the debt ceiling has to be dealt with (again).

However, this isn't all bad news. This may truly be the start of something new... Or at least something we haven't experienced for a while. For once, fiscal policy is finally looking more "balanced" as revenue finally returns to the equation.

The move from $250,000 to $400,000/$450,000 was more of face saving gesture for Republicans. In reality, the GOP got their clock cleaned on this one. President Obama got several concessions out of Republicans that they swore they would never do. (Permanently raise taxes on the wealthy, and extend unemployment benefits for a year to name just two things.)

Obama campaigned on raising taxes on the wealthy, and that is exactly what he has done. Anyone who feels like the president caved is not looking at the full picture. The president gave up a little, and got a whole lot in return.

It has been almost 20 years since this country raised taxes on the wealthy. President Obama took another step towards making history. Who knows what the Republicans in House will do, and we learned before Christmas to never trust Boehner and Cantor when they say they have the votes. Things might fall apart in the House later today, but the president and vice president got a very good deal for the country through the Senate.

Even if some on the left refuse to admit it, Republicans know they got owned on this one.

Perhaps this is what President Obama meant when he claimed earlier this year that his reelection and further Democratic success in last year's election could "break the fever" of "tea party" madness. While "tea party" madness remains in Congress, at least now sensible progressive tax reform is happening despite that. And as that happens, America's social safety net for the most vulnerable in our society will largely be left intact. While this deal certainly isn't "nirvana", it's better than the alternative of self-imposed recession.

So the great "Fiscal Cliff" saga is not quite over yet. But all of a sudden, President Obama has again managed to "punk" Republicans into a fiscal corner. And progressives working for a better budget that works for all Americans can live to fight another day.

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