MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT Driving the GOP off the Fiscal Cliff
In the '90s, Newton Leroy "Newt" Gingrich tried playing a game of chicken with Bill Clinton to see who would blink first – and Gingrich lost badly.
The federal shutdown precipitated by a GOP effort to cut Medicare benefits, among other austerity measures, resulted when Clinton vetoed a Republican budget that would impose hardships on public services and the earned benefits of seniors, among others. The federal government general closure occurred during two periods in late 1995 and early 1996.
The so-called "fiscal cliff" (although it differed in details from the current one) was eventually resolved with Bill Clinton's popularity soaring, while Gingrich was generally perceived as playing a losing hand. Clinton went on to easily win a second term against GOP candidate Bob Dole in 1996. In 1998, when the House Republicans lost seats in a mid-term election – the first time in more than 50 years that the party not holding the presidency lost House seats in an off-presidential year election – a GOP House coup occurred and Gingrich (who had other ethical issues weighing him down) resigned amidst, ironically, the Clinton impeachment.
Clinton completed his second term after the Senate rejected the impeachment jihad; meanwhile, Gingrich was not only no longer the Speaker of the House, he was gone from Congress.
That's something to keep in mind as John Boehner wrestles with a split caucus while vowing to, in effect, close the government down over keeping tax cuts for the rich and imposing an austerity agenda, along with increasing costs on those Americans with earned benefits (given the negative name of "entitlements" by the DC insiders who passively accept the Republican "frame").
But Barack Obama, even if he is allegedly willing to increase Medicare burdens to those who have earned it, has Boehner in a bit of a box. The tax cuts on the rich expire on their own at the end of 2012. No vote needs to be taken. But with their demise, the tax cuts on the working class also expire.
Obama, it appears, will not sign any bill that extends Bush era tax cuts on the rich. Meanwhile, the so-called draconian across the board cuts in the United States budget would kick in without an increase in the debt ceiling, which the Republican caucus in the House is refusing to do given the dominance of the Tea Party.
According to Josh Marshall, that leaves limited options:
So the only thing the President can do — if he’s really not going to negotiate — is continue to service the existing debt and shut down big enough parts of the federal government to be able to fund it through existing tax receipts. And no, shuttering the national parks would by no means cut it.
Just how much you’d have to shutter and which parts I’m not completely sure. But a whole, whole lot.
In such a scenario, what worked for Clinton will probably work to Obama's favor also. Current polls show the public overwhelmingly would blame the GOP, by a landslide margin. The Republicans can't take credit for going "halfway" by voting for eliminating tax cuts for the wealthy, even if they felt it was politically necessary, because the Bush tax cuts disappear automatically at midnight on December 31. Meanwhile, those Americans with incomes under $250,000 are going to be screaming. Then Obama will go out on the stump and say, "I'm with you. I've introduced a bill to restore tax cuts to middle income families; it's the Republicans you need to talk to." Also, the White House wants the GOP to go first in publicly proposing Medicare and other safety net cutbacks, wherever they come from. Already Boehner has hinted at raising the eligibility age of Medicare.
The White House has positioned itself so that the popular proposals on earned benefits (although again, Obama is widely seen as likely to give in a bit on Medicare) and tax cuts for the majority of Americans come from the Obama administration. The Republicans are stuck proposing unpopular cuts to achieve their made-for-the-rich austerity.
Hypothetically, once all the tax cuts expire and the Democratic Senate were to vote out a bill restoring the savings to the middle class but not the wealthy, Boehner and his Barbary Pirates are going to have to suck lemons and vote for it – regardless of debt negotations – or the Republicans will pay a big price in the mid-terms in 2014.
As for the so-called "deficit reduction," let it be the burden of those who ran up the deficit under Bush after Clinton left the Republicans a balanced budget in 2001; let it be their proposals as to what would be cut. Because the truth is it would finally provide the lie to their claims of an indulgent government budget; they'd have to cut the earned benefits of seniors, veterans, the disabled, education, health and other programs that are vital to most Americans. They'd clip the US government down to the size of a Bonzai Tree, except for the military-industrial complex and subsidies for corporations and research that gives free technological and biomedical patents to businesses developed at taxpayer expense.
Those sort of policies, when shown the light of day, don't win elections; they lose them.
That is unless the GOP House goes after the US war budget, which they won't unless water boarded.
And there's one final fact to remember: US voters elected a Democratic president, a Democratic Senate, and by more than a half a million votes preferred a Democratic House.
The only reason that the House is still Republican is due to gerrymandering after the 2010 election. It's perfectly legal, but the 2012 vote count showed that the majority of Americans preferred a Democratic House and the policies articulated by President Obama.