Who Won in the Cliff Deal?

             Barack After the Cliff Deal - January 2, 2013

President Obama comments on the Art of the deal

 A victory for the political process and the American people

As is to be expected from hard core ideologues on both sides, the deal hammered out by Vice President Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to prevent the nation from going over the fiscal cliff and smashing the fragile economic recovery on the rocks of uncertainty is being vociferously denounced and condemned as a sellout.  For instance right-wing columnist Charles Krauthammer, who is a psychiatrist, called the deal “a complete surrender” on the part of Congressional Republicans.

Since Dr. Krauthammer has long struck me as a man desperately in need of his own services – as in “doctor heal thyself” – it does not surprise me that he would say something crazy. Yet his views are echoed throughout the Tea Party crowd that voted against the deal.  And the response from the left echoes the hysteria on the right.

For instance Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat from Iowa, declared “no deal is better than the one currently on the table.” And Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a Manhattan based Democrat called the deal a “tremendous victory for Republicans.”   Obviously the naysayers do not fully grasp the nature of compromise, which requires one to give up some cherished goal in order to get the other side to agree to something else you want.

It also means that you don’t always get to choose what you will have to give up; often it is demanded as a concession by the opposition in exchange for ceding something you want from them.  That’s how the game goes.  Neither side can get their way so you negotiate the best deal you can.

That’s how a functioning government works in a system with a threefold division of power where each branch of government serves to check and balance the power of the other.  The American government was designed this way because the architects of the US constitution was determined to prevent the rise of tyrannical rulers such as existed in Europe, with their doctrine of “The Divine Rights of Kings.”

That’s why they specified that those who govern must have the consent of the governed.  That’s also why they wisely placed the military under the control of civilians who are elected by the people, and it has prevented the rise of a military caste that can take over state power.  However they left us with a solution to the problem of gridlock: vote for one party to control the presidency and the Congress.

This will insure that big things will get done.  But so long as we have political parties that are ideologically disparate in their vision of the role of government, we will have these bitter partisan conflicts that threaten to paralyze the critical work of governing this complex nation.  Hence despite its ignoble beginnings in a racist, sexist, genocidal, slave holding republic it remains a good system for self-government…maybe the best in the world.

Although neither side got everything they wanted in the fiscal negotiations, they managed to come to an agreement that steered the nation away from financial disaster while realizing some of their goals.  The Republican goals were simple: prevent raising taxes on the rich while slashing benefits for the poor and middle-classes.

Since cutting entitlements that the majority of Americans have come to rely on is unpopular, the Republicans pander to the prejudices of the electorate by promoting anti-gay and immigrant policies, cultivating fear of “big government” and foreign enemies, and stoking the racist prejudices and fears of working class whites.

While this proved to be a losing strategy in the presidential elections, it is still an effective strategy in certain congressional districts that elected far right Tea Party types who support economic policies that are against their interests.  And it is these recalcitrant ideologues that have rendered the Republican controlled House dysfunctional and reduced John Boehner from the Speaker to the Weeper of the House.

Unable to control his caucus Boehner had to pass the baton to Mitch McConnell to hammer out a deal with Vice-President Biden in the Senate and then pass the Bill down to the House for a vote.  It was an ass backward process that has reduced him to a figure of ridicule among political pundits around the world, and will guarantee him the contempt of future historians – especially when his leadership is compared to the brilliant leadership of Nancy Pelosi who preceded him in office.

Under Speaker Pelosi we got historic legislation that saved the American economy from collapse and set the nation upon a path of reconstruction and reform that will benefit the American people for generations.  On the other hand, the 112th Congress under John Boehner’s leadership is one of the least productive in history.  It is the epitome of what President Truman called a “do nothing Congress!”  In order to understand just how bad this Congress is one need only compare its legislative record with that of the 80 Congress that Truman was referring to.  The 80th Congress passed 900 bills, while the 112 Congress has passed less than a third of that number!

When we consider the fact that the Republican majority has voted 33 times to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act, with the same predictable result, while neglecting to even deal with critical legislation appropriating funds to create massive public works projects devoted to reconstructing infrastructure that is critical to our economic revival, it is reasonable to conclude that these Congressman,  and those who elect them to office, are the political equivalent of the inmates taking over the asylum.  This is why some historians are already calling the 112 “the worst Congress in history.”

In terms of who won and who lost in the deal it’s a mixed bag.  Clearly the rich won by getting a 200,000 dollars exemption above the President’s original proposal to raise taxes on all income over $250, 000. And they also gained on inheritance tax rate.  The President was forced to concede these things in exchange for extending unemployment benefits to 2 million Americans suffering long term unemployment; it also preserved the earned Income Tax Credit for low wage workers, as well as preventing a tax hike on 98% of taxpayers and extended the college tuition credit.

The President also saved the Alternative Minimum Tax, maintained the payment structure for doctors who serve Medicare patients and kept the farm subsidies which prevented a sudden and dramatic rise in the price of milk.  The compromise prevented the drastic cuts to important government programs, including the military, if the automatic cuts had kicked in.

When all things are considered the objective observer must see outcome as a win for the President…especially when we consider the fact that he forced many Republicans to break their pledge to never vote for a tax hike.  And he achieved this without cutting a single dime from the bedrock entitlement programs that workers, led by the unions, struggled so hard to achieve in the twentieth century.

These programs dramatically raised the living standards of all working people in this country…including some lower management types.  However the appropriate response to this victory is a “whew!” we just avoided going over the cliff and began preparing for the even nastier and more dangerous battles over fiscal policy that lay just down the road.

Judging from the howls emanating from the Grand Obstructionist Party’s firebrands it’s gonna be a bloody mess that might yet result in economic disaster as we face the Debt Ceiling and the Sequestration law.  Although this compromise may enrage the ideologues at both ends of the political spectrum – like the idiots who still argue that the President should have gone over the cliff – it is a victory for the American people and a vindication for the political process.

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Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem New York

Janurary 3, 2013

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