Obama hangs tough: It ain’t 2010 anymore

    Two things I thought I would never see: President Obama hosting Led Zeppelin in the East Room, and President Obama playing tough guy with the obstructionist House Republicans.

    Some of the Led Zep lyrics seem tailored to Obama – Good times, bad times, you know I’ve had my share – and he certainly remembers the bad times, early in his first term, when he actually believed he could extend an olive branch to Republicans and persuade them to work with him.

    Yeah, right. What he learned, the hard way, is that when you offer your hand to those guys, they take that as an opportunity to devour your entire arm.


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    So this time – embolded by the fact that Republicans in 2012 lost the nationwide popular vote for the presidency, the Senate, and the House – Obama isn’t bothering to play nice guy anymore. He has the wind at his back. What’s most striking, in the opening chess moves over how to avoid the “fiscal cliff,” is how he’s hewing to the budget principles on which he successfully campaigned. He insists that the Republicans start the negotiating process by agreeing to accept higher taxes on the rich.

    Obama’s Treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, said it succinctly on the Sunday shows: “There’s just no reason why 98 percent of Americans have to see their taxes go up (on Jan. 1) because some members of Congress on the Republican side want to block tax rate increases for two percent of the wealthiest Americans. Those rates are going to go up. That’s an essential part of a deal.”

    According to news reports, Republicans “laughed” when they heard about Obama’s budget package (tax hikes for the rich, $400 billion in cuts to Medicare and other social insurance programs, some stimulus money for the economy, an extension of jobless insurance, and extension of the payroll tax holiday), and, even as they “laughed,” they naturally proposed nothing of their own. Still mired in the first stage of denial, they have somehow convinced themselves that the election didn’t boost Obama’s political capital at their expense. Witness John Boehner: “(Obama) must have forgotten that Republicans continue to hold a majority in the House.”

    Here’s what Boehner must have forgotten: Republicans continue to hold a majority in the House largely because of the way most House districts are drawn by Republican state legislatures; the reality is, Democratic House candidates garnered roughly one million more votes nationwide than their Republican opponents. Democratic Senate candidates drew roughly ten million more votes nationwide than their Republican opponents. And, with respect to the presidency, the latest tally shows that Obama has racked up 4.64 million more votes than Mitt Romney.

    In November 2004, after President Bush won re-election by three million votes, Bush boasted: “The people made it clear what they wanted. I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and I intend to spend it.” Obama, having triumphed by a bigger margin, is correct in calculating that his political leverage has been strengthened. Granted, there’s a risk that Obama might overplay his hand – just as Bush did in 2005, interpreting the ’04 election win as a mandate to privatize Social Security. But Bush hadn’t campaigned on a promise to privatize Social Security (lucky for him that he didn’t). By contrast, Obama explicitly argued, in his stump appearances, that the rich should help solve the budget crisis by paying their fare share.

    He campaigned on that, he won on that (as evidenced in the exit polls), and the post-election surveys buttress his stance. In the latest ABC News-Washington Post poll, 60 percent of Anericans – including 63 percent of independents – support raising taxes on incomes exceeding $250,000 a year. And most Americans want Obama to have the upper hand in his dealings with the GOP; according to the latest CNN-ORC poll, 51 percent want Obama to have more influence on policy during the next two years, while only 42 percent want the GOP. More broadly, 51 percent have a favorable view of the Democrats,. while only 38 percent feel that way about the GOP.

    But for Boehner and his House colleagues, here’s the political cliff: The latest Pew Research Center poll reports that if no budget deal is reached by year’s end, 53 percent of Americans will blame “Republicans in Congress,” and only 29 percent will blame Obama.

    So why should Obama blink first and pre-emptively cede ground (like he used to do)? He has the whip hand, and it behooves him to play it. And when a deal is finally struck (assuming it happens), he will presumably have compromised from a position of strength – perhaps accepting smaller tax hikes and bigger social spending cuts than he’d ideally like, but nevertheless a package that broadly reflects his principles. And a package that Republicans can grudgingly live with, reflecting the reality that they lost the election.

    What a fine day that would be. Take it away, Led Zeppelin!

    And it’s whispered that soon if we all call the tune

    Then the piper will lead us to reason

    And a new day will dawn for those who stand long

    And the forests will echo with laughter


    Speaking of Boehner: After taking heat all last week for awarding 19 House committee chairmanships to 19 white men, he was finally lead to reason. Late Friday, he reached into his binders full of women, and found one. He worked it out so that Michigan congresswoman Candice Miller could helm the House Administration Committee. Has the party actually woken up to its diversity deficit? Some parting advice from the bandmates:

    Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run

    There’s still time to change the road you’re on


    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1



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