Fear Factor is Key as Obama Tries to Soothe Libs
“…a sugar-coated Satan sandwich.”
-- Missouri Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and founder of the House Civility Caucus, describing to Roll Call a debt-limit deal struck between President Obama, Senate Democrats and House Republicans.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi wants you and the members of her conference to know she is unhappy.
“Maybe none of us will be able to support it," she spat out on Sunday night while everybody else was trying to paint a picture of cheery confidence for the benefit of global financial markets.
The final deal on a debt-ceiling increase is so repellant to the liberals who put Pelosi in charge of the House and kept her on as party leader after a historic Republican sweep in 2010 that it’s unlikely that she will be able to do much more than agree not to actively oppose the plan crafted between House Republicans, Senate Democrats and President Obama.
The big papers are full of liberal gloom today, with Paul Krugman and the rest of the Timesmen predicting that the deal will precipitate deeper recession, an emboldened Tea Party movement and suffering for the disadvantaged. The plan should pass, they say, but only because it is too late to do anything else to avert crisis.
While the left seems to agree with the administration line that “these are not your father’s Republicans” and that the new super-conservative populists driving the party’s agenda pose a special threat, there is still genuine concern that Obama keeps getting rolled by the Tea Party. Even if they think he’s a good guy, they want him to be better at his job.
Particularly galling to liberals is the fact that Obama took the deal up to the 11th hour, never offering a plan of his own, and walked away with nothing but the debt hike most Democrats believe should have been granted unconditionally.
There are many on the left who are arguing vehemently today for House Democrats to refuse the deal, which they believe will force the president to invoke the 14th Amendment and unilaterally extend the debt limit. This would surely cause an economic and constitutional crisis as world markets waited to see how the Supreme Court would rule on this novel concept. Basically the argument here is that while the president is a committed liberal, he is too weak to stand up to Republicans and must be made to do so.
But to get the deal done, Obama will need only a maximum of 97 of 193 House Democrats to suck it up, a fairly low bar given that most Democrats believe that “Armageddon” awaits the world if no plan is passed.
The rightward tilt of the compromise means that Speaker John Boehner should be able to get at least a bare majority of his caucus -- 121 of his 240 members -- to take the deal.
But even with lots of hall passes to hand out, the president will still need many members who are deeply opposed on principle to accept the plan. Just as Boehner has been feeling the burn from the right, the president will now be taking heat from the left.
This is part of why the deal had to go down to the 11th hour. Obama needs House and Senate Democrats to feel, as he said, the “gun to the head” and accept the deal. Rather than answer to his own base or produce a plan that would have appalled moderates, Obama decided to wait until the last minute and then start a stampede toward safety.
Everyone kept asking “Where is the plan?” Well, here it is, and it’s a political, not fiscal one. It offers Obama much of what he wanted: a debt hike to last him through the election (the largest in history) and the avoidance of a government shutdown that would have further hurt the crumbling economy and doomed him to 2012 defeat.
The stall and stampede plan may have saved the president’s skin, but it also suggests that he may be more afraid of his own base than he is of the Tea Party.
The real danger for the president may be that too many in his party realize this and conclude that he is more interested in self-preservation than advancing the agenda they sent him to pursue. They aren’t going to vote for Rick Perry or whomever the Republicans nominate, but they won’t be doing the work the president needs as he attempts his increasingly challenging re-election effort.
Tax Increase Language Matters Most for GOPers
“This compromise does make a serious down payment on the deficit reduction we need, and gives each party a strong incentive to get a balanced plan done before the end of the year.”
-- President Obama holding out hope for a future tax increase as part of a debt ceiling deal struck with Republicans.
Democrats say that the 12-member super committee established by the compromise debt-ceiling plan may put forward a tax increase by the end of the year. Republicans, meanwhile, say it’s not possible.
Depending on how you define a tax increase, they’re both right.
Republicans gained a provision that all the second, $1.5 trillion tranche of the debt limit hike has to be based on cuts “under current law.” That means that the super committee can’t make its projections based on new tax revenue.
What Democrats got was a hope that in an equally-divided panel (each of the four legislative leaders will get three appointments) they can find one Republican who will go for a revenue-neutral suite of tax modifications that might end up with some rich people paying more as part of a larger tax simplification.
It’s pretty thin gruel for the left, but it is enough to leave some Republicans feeling very uneasy about what happens once the dreaded dozen sets to work.
Under the plan, the president gets an immediate $900 billion debt increase (enough to last to about February) in exchange for $917 billion in cuts spread out over the next decade. That timeframe allows Obama to spare some of his pet projects now in exchange for future pain.
Then, the super committee has to lay out $1.5 trillion in new cuts spread out over the same time frame so that Obama can get a corresponding rise in debt authority. This is where you will likely see some tweaks to entitlement programs and, perhaps, tax changes. The only way to get to a number that large without taking a hatchet to current spending will be to make those currently painless long-range changes.
If seven of 12 back the proposal, it gets an automatic up or down vote in both houses.
If the committee can’t cough up some compromise, Congress can either ratify and send to the states a balanced budget amendment and preserve the whole $1.5 trillion for Obama or face automatic, across the board, cuts of $1.2 trillion and an equal amount in borrowing power for the president.
Hawkish Republicans are concerned about this part because they fear that many in their increasingly libertarian party will be happy to see the Pentagon get slashed along with everything else.
Liberals, who have long pushed for Defense to share the pain, are supposed to be motivated by the prospect of brutal cuts to welfare and entitlement programs, including Medicare. But since the Medicare cuts are the same kind of cuts to doctors and hospitals the president has long been pushing and not changes to eligibility requirements, many liberals may come to see what was designed to be a debt ceiling doomsday machine as more appetizing than whatever flummery the super committee cooks up.
To convince the GOP establishment that that won’t happen, Speaker John Boehner has to convince the old bulls that the super committee will do its work and not present anything too big. The way he can do that is by making quiet personnel promises.
By telling members that Rep. Soandso will be part of Boehner’s three or that Congresswoman Youknowwho won’t be on the panel, he may convince establishment Republicans to take the risk that there won’t be a left-right coalition able to reject the deal and bring down the $1.2 trillion in cuts.
And Now, A Word From Charles
“If you’re a Republican, you have to look at the long game and the long view: this has been a tremendous success. The president in January gives a State of the Union address in which he talks about more spending on innovation, energy, all the pet stuff he believes in. Here were are, nine months later, and that sounds like it’s out of the Jurassic Era. We are now in the debt era.”
***Today on “Power Play w/Chris Stirewalt,” Chris and Mary Katharine Ham of the Daily Caller talk to Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas about the final negotiations in Congress’ debt drama. Don’t miss a minute at 11:30a ET at live.foxnews.com ***
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.