MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The legislation that just was passed by the House last night has as much to do with the US facing a "fiscal cliff" as a train careening off a non-existent mountain in the flat earth state of Oklahoma.
We have a president who was elected twice on a vow to keep expiring tax cuts for those earning less than $250,000. The United States Senate passed a bill awhile back to maintain the "middle class" cuts , after the so-called "grand scheme" failed and the clean, straight forward $250,000 bill should have been the one voted upon by the House.
Of course, John Boehner didn't bring it to a vote. He could have lost his Speakership post to the lean and cunning Eric Cantor in the GOP caucus vote on Thursday as the new Congress resumes, given the ship he sails is full of brigands from the enclaves of America's paranoid and master's of selfish delusion.
In the end, Obama got bragging rights that some taxes on a small percentage of the wealthy are going up. But those who are middle class clock punchers will see their take home pay go down because the holiday on the payroll tax reduction (Medicare and Social Security payments) has expired and is not being renewed.
Sure there are lots of good progressive things regarding the Alternative Minimum Tax, extension of unemployment benefits, foreclosure tax moratoriums and so on.
Yet, there is the nagging reality that before President Obama is even sworn in for a second term, he is once again the guy who is one of the best campaigners of all time, while being one of the worst negotiators.
Take the two-month agreement that accompanies this legislation. Come the end of winter, DC will return to a GOP renewal campaign on behalf of "austerity" and gutting Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, healthcare for veterans and whatever program that benefits the public good that they can, all based on the unspoken premise that the United States ran up a high credit card bill due primarily to these very tax cuts instituted by George W. Bush and two unfunded wars -- after he inherited a balanced budget from Bill Clinton – and then crashed the economy.
This is what the GOP bequeathed to Obama, and then blamed him for the mess that they made.
So, the Republicans got us into this morass – including Eric Cantor. Yes, Eric Cantor voted to hike up the debt by trillions of dollars under Bush, but hypocrisy never stopped an ambitious GOP carnival barker. Then he voted last night against the tax cut measure. Who are you going to believe? Eric Cantor or his lying eyes.
Remember that the right wing think tanks, FOX News, Rush Limbaugh and the whole damn "76 Trombone" right wing echo chamber has ginned up a war to cut social and educational (but not military) programs since Reagan – and that they are ready to reactivate the indoctrination campaign today. Forget the bill that just passed: by next week we will be back to the GOP controlling the frame of the so-called "fiscal cliff," the so-called deficit reduction, the so-called austerity debates – and Obama will play on their field of terminology and propaganda.
This is where we get to Obama's continued feckless negotiating with Congress. He can have all the aides he wants run around denouncing progressives "who don't know how to deal with the realities of Congress." But presidents who have made profound changes in the direction of the nation have led Congress, not been held hostage to a bunch of Tea Party followers in one House of Congress who are so full of multiple personalities and conundrums that you can just call then Sybil. They are political multiple personalities.
But that is what Obama does, delegates other people to do most of the negotiation while he approves concession after concession – thinking he is holding firm ground as he backs up -- and keeps his fingerprints off the legislation.
And here we reach the real epic failure of President Obama in negotiations.
In two months, as noted earlier, he is going to have to again negotiate the so-called "sequester," which is an obscure word that means the Republicans will attempt to slash the role of government in everything except the military and welfare for corporations.
In this debate, we – as has been said -- will return to the media echoing the well-honed "austerity" memes of the Republicans. The 99 percent of Americans who might be screaming for the restoration of their taxes will no longer be an army backing Obama. He will not have their leverage in minimizing the GOP attacks on programs that benefit the common good. He will not have them blaming Republicans for raising their taxes, because Obama saved the GOP from that political voter wrath.
Obama has lost that gambit – and he will be easy pickings for the GOP come two months as the Koch Brothers shrink-the-deficit drive kicks into full gear. In fact, in shaping this week's bill in a way that the House passed it, he removed a wonderful political opportunity for almost the entire American nation to blame the Republicans for raising their taxes. Yes, the Republicans in the House came within a hair's breath of being blamed for – divine irony – raising taxes!
That would have been a feat for the ages. But Obama chose to save them and make it seem like a bi-partisan bill even though it only passed in the House because of the Dem caucus supporting it, with a few scattered Republicans.
Paul Krugman writes today:
OK, now for the really bad news. Anyone looking at these negotiations, especially given Obama's previous behavior, can't help but reach one main conclusion: whenever the president says that there's an issue on which he absolutely, positively won't give ground, you can count on him, you know, giving way -- and soon, too. The idea that you should only make promises and threats you intend to make good on doesn't seem to be one that this particular president can grasp.
And that means that Republicans will go right from this negotiation into the debt ceiling in the firm belief that Obama can be rolled.
At that point he can redeem himself by holding firm -- but because the Republicans don't think he will, they will play tough, almost surely forcing him to actually hit the ceiling with all the costs that entails. And look, if I were a Republican I would also be betting that he'll cave.
So Obama has set himself and the nation up for a much uglier confrontation than we would have had if he had set a negotiating position and held to it.
No doubt, Obama is extremely proud of himself that he raised taxes on the 1% and made little more than a symbolic dent into raising the estate tax.
But if this is a chess game, President Obama doesn't see that two months from now he is going to be checkmated on austerity cutbacks.
You can't win political victories in Washington when your key negotiating characteristic is concession.
(Photo: Intel Photos)