Barack Obama’s Problem: Fanatic Republicans and Mushball Democrats

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


A lot of people—including me—have argued that President Obama would be better off letting the country sail over the fiscal cliff, at least for a little while. After all, right now tax rates are at low Bush-era levels, so the argument is all about whose taxes will go up. But after January 1, tax rates automatically go up to Clinton-era levels, so the argument suddenly becomes about whose taxes will go down. That’s much more fertile ground for an Obama-friendly compromise.

That’s the theory, anyway. Today, though, after watching Sen. Kent Conrad (D–ND) publicly cave in on taxes on national TV with virtually no prompting at all, Ezra Klein suggests that Obama’s leverage on January 1 might not be as strong as we think:

There are good theoretical arguments that the fiscal cliff’s tax hikes gives Democrats the bulk of the leverage, but the White House has watched Senate Democrats fold on taxes again and again and again. They worry that if we go over the fiscal cliff, skittish Senate Democrats will quickly fold before some House-passed plan that raises taxes on income over $750,000, does nothing on stimulus, and sets up a debt-ceiling fight for early next year. The White House thinks it’ll be very difficult for them to veto anything Senate Democrats agree to, and so they would prefer to strike the deal themselves rather than getting into a situation where vulnerable Senate Democrats could strike a deal on their behalf.

It turns out that Conrad told Chris Wallace, after literally seconds of badgering, that his ideal compromise would split the difference between Obama’s latest proposal and John Boehner’s latest proposal. This would produce a plan with more spending cuts than tax hikes, even though Boehner has already publicly agreed to a 1:1 split. If Conrad is willing to give Boehner more than he asked for without any pressure at all, what are the odds that he and his fellow centrists in the Senate would be willing to hold out for more than a few minutes during a real negotiation with the anti-tax zealots in the Republican Party?

Plenty of people have questioned Obama’s negotiating skills over the years, and not without cause. But when you’re dealing with fanatics in the other party and mushballs in your own, it makes things pretty tough. That’s the reality Obama has to deal with.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest