President Obama had the upper hand, and he used it. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Many Democrats are unhappy with the compromise forged by Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to avert the "fiscal cliff." They say President Obama caved once again and bargained away his only real leverage — despite promises to hold firm on raising taxes on anyone making more than $250,000 a year.
But Democrats should be elated by a major political victory: They finally broke the Republican Party's intransigence on taxes that held firm for more than two decades.
Critics say President Obama's hand is weakened as Congress moves to the next phase of this budget battle, which involves the automatic "sequester" spending cuts and the need to lift the debt ceiling once again so the federal government can borrow more money to fund operations. Republicans, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), even urged colleagues to "keep their powder dry" during the most recent phase of this budget battle so they can use the leverage of the debt ceiling to force dramatic spending cuts in the coming months.
However, the White House knew what they were doing when they separated the tax and spending issues in this fiscal cliff deal. They secured more than $600 billion in new revenue by getting Republicans to agree to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans. Now they will force the GOP to detail the cuts they want in popular entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. That's not something House Speaker John Boehner or Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell want to do.
The "leverage" Republicans think they have over President Obama if he doesn't agree — not raising the debt ceiling — threatens to force the United States to default on its debt obligations and potentially throw the world economy into recession.
But provoking a crisis is never good politics. Americans will know exactly who to blame.
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