Anyone who has glanced at the news recently knows that the battle over the federal budget has continued after all the fiscal cliff hype ended with an absurdly small and insignificant agreement to postpone most difficult decisions. As the LA Times noted in a recent article, President Obama used the last press conference of his first term to reiterate the claim that he would not negotiate with the House Republicans, many of whom have continued to assert that the debt ceiling is the best opportunity conservatives have to extract spending cuts from the White House.
There are obviously many factors contributing to tension between the GOP and the White House, but one likely reason the President has been vocally opposed to negotiating during this debt ceiling debacle is the backlash he faced from even his most moderate supporters when he was accused of being weak and playing into the hands of the reckless GOP brinkmanship.
Regardless of how you personally view the finances of the federal government, there are undeniably two sides to this problem. There is the purely fiscal policy side of the issue, and although this is the much more important side to the issue, both parties have generally been laying out their arguments in talking point format since the 2012 election began in 2011. Then there is also the political side, which can obviously be more of an obstacle of progress rather than a catalyst for progress, but that does not make it any less important.
From a purely fiscal view of this current standoff, it would seem as though the GOP holds many, if not all, of the cards. President Obama, being a liberal, believes the government can and should play a positive and active role in the economy, and to a lesser extent society, and given that the GOP disagrees and feels that “the government that governs best, is the one that governs least,” it would only be logical to conclude that the GOP ultimately has the upper hand given their ability to progress their ideology by refusing to act.
The problem for the GOP, and the reason the President and his allies seem to have room to operate, is completely due to the politics of today. The GOP knows that reverting to the tactics of 2011 after losing an election in 2012 might cause further disillusionment for the more moderate supporters who seemed to flee the party as the Tea Party influence continued to spread. There is also the fear that the aesthetics of risking the credit of the federal government to get what they want could only cause further setbacks in the attempt to reclaim the legislature in the 2014 midterm elections.
The problem for the President and Democrats in the legislature is simply that although the potential exists to score an early political victory, this is very much not the time to be focused on such things. The Democrats could use this whole debacle to once again paint the GOP as extremely ideological, and out of touch with the large numbers of unemployed and the perpetually struggling middle class, and it might even distract attention from the inability of the Democratic party to come up with many serious ways to cut the three things that equal over 60 percent of the federal budget: Medicare, Social Security, and the military.
Combining liberal cost-cutting measures like means testing Medicare and cutting defense spending with conservative proposals like reducing the payout on the beneficiary side of entitlement programs, would be the best way to win a political victory, but shouting and proclaiming how bad the GOP proposals will be, unfortunately, seems to be just as effective, and it doesn’t require making any tough decisions.