After moving at a glacial pace for weeks, negations to avoid the looming "fiscal cliff" suddenly sped up in recent days, with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) offering a deal on Friday to raise taxes on the very wealthy and President Obama countering late Monday with a proposal conceding much deeper cuts to spending and tinkering with the payment formula for Social Security. It is by far the closest the two key negotiators have come to meeting in the middle. Indeed, "the two sides are now dickering over price, not philosophical differences, and the numbers are very close," says Jonathan Weisman in The New York Times. So good news, right?
Maybe. Boehner is presenting the framework to his caucus today, and there are things for lawmakers in both parties to dislike. "Neither Obama or Boehner can be certain yet on how much resistance they might meet," says Richard Cowan at Reuters. "The progress is fragile," agree Carrie Budoff Brown and John Bresnahan at Politico, "and the next 24 hours are critical as lawmakers from both parties and interest groups on all sides weigh in."
Here's Obama's latest offer: $1.2 trillion in new revenue and $1.22 trillion in cuts and savings over 10 years. On the revenue side, taxes would go back to Clinton-era rates for households earning $400,000 a year and upward, with the top marginal rate reverting to 39.6 percent. Deductions would be capped at 28 percent for incomes above $250,000. On the spending side, $800 billion would come from cuts to programs — half from federal health programs, $200 billion from mandatory programs like farm subsidies, $100 billion from the military, and $100 billion from discretionary funding. And $122 billion could come from chaining Social Security increases to the less-generous consumer price index (CPI). Another $290 billion would come from interest savings from the lower national debt. The debt limit would also be raised, preventing more debt-ceiling face-offs for two years.
Boehner's last offer was for $1 trillion in new revenue, in part by raising taxes on households earning $1 million or more, and $1 trillion in cuts, plus a one-year respite from debt-ceiling showdowns. On Tuesday, he will reportedly try gin up leverage for his position by trying to have the House pass an extension of the Bush tax cuts on all households under his $1 million threshold, in a variation of the GOP "doomsday plan."
Still, the encouraging heart of the emerging deal, says Derek Thompson at The Atlantic, is a "blockbuster trade": Boehner is placing the GOP "sacred cow, tax rates for the rich, on the altar for the sacrifice," and Democrats are willing to do the same for their sacred cow, benefits for seniors. "Sacrifices all around. There is a Mayan joke here, somewhere." For what it's worth, the public wants a deal, but isn't too keen on any of the cuts, according to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll: 74 percent of respondents are fine with raising taxes on households earning $250,000 or more, but more than half say it would be "unacceptable" to cut Medicaid, raise the eligibility age for Medicare, or slow the cost-of-living increase for Social Security. Well, any deal to avoid the fiscal cliff was "never going to please everybody, says Thompson. "A little screaming was inevitable."
Obama and Boehner "could close a deal this week, or it could still fall apart," says Jared Bernstein at On the Economy. "A month ago, I was at 75/25 we're going over. I'm now 60/40 we're not." The big question: Can Boehner deliver the House votes?
He might be able to now, Politico's Ben White tells Current TV. After last week's horrible school massacre, "I don't think either side at this point has a lot of appetite for brinksmanship anymore." It's hard to negotiate big budget deals in a bright glare, and "I think the tragic events in Connecticut have taken the spotlight off of this, rightly so. I think there is a reduced incentive for people to be at each other's throats. I think they want to get a deal done and I think it will get done.”
Maybe, Bernstein says, but it shouldn't be this hard.
Not to be dyspeptic, but any joy you might feel from solving the cliff before (or very shortly after) we go over should be akin to the joy you feel from when you stop banging a hammer on your head. T'was dysfunctional government that brought us to this precipice and while I'll be glad to see it resolved, it never should have happened in the first place. And frankly, there's a lot more we need to be doing that setting and solving traps for ourselves.