This Is What Failed Leadership Looks Like

Empty U.S. House chambers.


With the country teetering on this fiscal cliff of deep spending cuts and sharp tax hikes, the philosophical differences, the shortened timetable and the political dynamics appear to be insurmountable hurdles for a bipartisan deal by New Year’s Day.

Hopes of a grand-bargain – to shave trillions of dollars off the deficit by cutting entitlement programs and raising revenue – are shattered. House Republicans already failed to pass their “Plan B” proposal. And now aides and senators say the White House’s smaller, fall-back plan floated last week is a non-starter among Republicans in Senate – much less the House.

On top of that, the Treasury Department announced Wednesday that the nation would hit the debt limit on Dec. 31, and would then have to take “extraordinary measures” to avoid exhausting the government’s borrowing limit in the New Year.

Adds the Washington Post:

If anything, hope for success appeared to have dimmed over the Christmas holiday. The Republican-controlled House last week abdicated responsibility for resolving the crisis, leaving all eyes on the Senate. But senior aides in both parties said Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have not met or even spoken since leaving town for the weekend…

With no sign of urgency, aides in both parties predicted that failure was not just a possibility – it was rapidly becoming the most likely outcome. No significant movement was expected Thursday: Obama was scheduled to be in the air traveling back from his Hawaiian holiday for a good portion of the day, and the Senate wasn’t set to convene for votes until the evening.

Even if some miraculous breakthrough in the Senate could be achieved, another round of winter weather in the Washington, D.C. area this weekend could well disrupt air travel, making it difficult for House members to reconvene in time for a vote before the new year–and that assumes the Republican-controlled House of Representatives is a body capable of passing anything the President would be able to sign. After the failure before Christmas by Speaker John Boehner to pass his “Plan B” alternative measure, a red-on-red disaster abetted by at least two Colorado Republican members of Congress, dysfunction seems to be the rule.

The public is becoming increasingly, undeniably aware of who is to blame for the impasse, as a poll released yesterday shows once again–Huffington Post reports:

President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats got a moderate boost in approval ratings for their handling of the crisis. Obama’s rating on the negotiations rose to a majority 54 percent, while approval for Democratic leaders in Congress jumped to 45 percent. Republicans did not see similar gains, with their number holding nearly steady at 26 percent. [Pols emphasis]

Any shift in approval didn’t appear to affect the desire for bipartisan deal-making. Just 22 percent of people said either side should stick to its principles, while 68 percent called for a compromise.

And this is the key: President Barack Obama has already compromised. A casual look at the offers the President has made, both increasing the threshold of income at which higher tax rates would apply, as well as offering entitlement rate-of-growth cuts that have genuinely upset liberal Democrats, and there’s no question which side has offered more to get a deal. We don’t really think the administration can offer much more without putting itself in a situation similar to that faced by Boehner–a fact made even clearer by the intense public opposition to cutting institutions like Social Security and Medicare. One small upshot is that as the scale of what can be achieved with an intransigent GOP-controlled House diminishes, so do the cuts.

Politically, it’s critical to understand that this is not 2009. There is no upwelling of conservative opposition brewing as was the case with the then-incipient “Tea Party.” The country has been through years of exactly this kind of obstruction and brinkmanship since Republicans retook control of the House in 2010. The voters want solutions. They are tired of rhetoric. What the polls show is a growing fatigue with Republican intransigence, and a growing understanding that it is Republican intransigence at the heart of much of their frustration with government.

It is not “bias” to acknowledge when one side is plainly losing.

60 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. Democrats will be hard-pressed in 2014 to come up with a Democratic House majority due to gerrymandering, even if Republicans completely send things into the shitter for 2013.

    Democrats won a plurality of votes cast in House elections (49-48) – but lost the overall House representation 201-234 (46.2-53.8) due to the lopsided balance of Republican gerrymandering.

  2. dwyer says:

    So, the public blames the Republicans.  So what?

    The Republican strength lies in the individual House Districts and the Republicans’ control of 30 state governments.

    2016 is a long way off.

  3. dwyer says:

    The House has passed a bill that would extend the tax Bush cuts to everybody, included the rich.  Boehner has said that the Senate/President has two choices:

    1) The Senate can pass the House bill extending the tax cuts to everyone.  This will in effect put the PResident in the position of either vetoing the bill and causing the fiscal cliff or signing the bill and thus capitulating to Boehner on the first contest of his second term, and breaking the promise on which he got elected.  Advantage:  Boehner

    2) Or, the Senate can refuse to pass that bill and will be responsible for the country going over the “fiscal cliff.”

    Boehner is refusing to reconvene the House.  This is why Boehner is in control of what happens legislatively.  The spin has already started saying that the President wants to go over the Cliff and the consequences of that will be the Democrats fault.  It will be interesting to see what the polls say in a week or ten days.

    The Democrats have no strategy.  The Democrats have a popular vote strategy which is how the party won in the general election.  But the Republicans can and will control the legislative process….Boehner in the House and the fillabuster in the Senate.

    I am describing the situation; not applauding it.  I don’t know what the Democrats can do.  But, it is time to stop talking about the popular vote and national polls because they don’t mean a gd thing.

  4. sxp151 says:


    Two sources on Capitol Hill say President Barack Obama told Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell he would send to Congress on Thursday a scaled back fiscal cliff measure.

    The bill would include elements of Obama’s tax plan which would prevent for some the tax hike scheduled to take place in the new year.

    McConnell has said he can not say whether he would require a simple majority or 60 votes for passage in the Senate until he sees Obama’s proposal.

    It is expected that the measure would extend the Bush-era tax breaks for income under $250,000, extend the current estate tax rate, and extend unemployment insurance. The estate tax extension is on Republicans’ wish list for a deal.

    More recent reports from anonymous White House staffers say there is no offer after all. This is exactly what anonymous White House staffers say during every Obama capitulation. I guess the idea is to keep lefties from bothering to call and complain while anything could still change.

    I didn’t support Obama’s reelection campaign, but even I didn’t imagine he wouldn’t even wait until Inauguration Day to turn right back into the coward he spent three years being.  

  5. dwyer says:

    I said last week that Boehner is in control of what will happen next, legislatively.  He is.  That is all I said.  I thought last week, that there was a chance that he would not reconvene the House before the 31st.  That appears to be what may be happening.

    Now, here is a question for you, Aristotle

    If the Democrats do not want to go over the “fiscal cliff” (and I don’t think that they do), what can they do to stop the country from going over the “fiscal cliff?”  You tell me, Aristotle.  I don’t  know what it would be

    Now then, you attack me for things I never said.  That makes me very uneasy.  I once had to deal with a kid who had mental problems…and that was the way he would argue…projecting things that were never said.  So I am hypersensitive to seeing my words distorted.

    You accused me of saying:

    “that the Senate (the same Senate that just added three or four new Democrats to its ranks) will pass tax cuts for everyone.”

    That is the bill that the House sent to the Senate.  The Senate has the option of passing it. That is one of the options I listed.  I did not ever say that the Senate would pass it.   I said that the problem is if the Senate were to amend that bill to eliminate the tax cuts for the top 1 or 2 %, then, the amended bill would have to go back to the House and the House is not in session.  That is one scenario I was describing.

    Now, I also never said this:

    “So, where are you getting this notion that the Senate will take the blame?”

    I said that is the current spin. And then I said:

    “That is why I will be interested in seeing what the polls say next week.”….because I don’t know if the spin will be successful.

    I challenge you, again:

    If the Democrats do NOT want to go over the cliff, what can they do?

    And just a point of personal pride, I have not spent decades listening to talk radio..I have spent almost six decades living in the real world, with real people, many of whom were sick and/or poor.  That meant that they could not afford illusions, they had to be very concrete or “literal” in order to survive.  

  6. Gray in Mountains says:

    is the Farm Bill. Waiting for adoption. If not adopted consumers face immediate inflation of food products

  7. Duke Coxdukeco1 says:

    McConnell and Reid…all the talking heads..

    The Republicans are SOOOOOOO fucked.


  8. DavidThi808DavidThi808 says:

    From the Republican side, they face primaries they will likely lose if they vote for any compromise. Their base needs to directly feel the pain first (when they’ll then demand compromise).

    From the Democratic side, going over the cliff is not a bad deal. The Republicans take the hit for the pain. Tax revenues go up a it to a level which worked fine under Clinton. Yes it will have a small negative impact on the economy, but the reduction in the deficit will have a (smaller) positive impact. The forced defense cuts are a good thing, possibly more so than the forced social cuts are a bad thing.

    A good deal is better than the cliff. But a bad deal is worse than the cliff for Democrats.

    The cliff is bad for the Republican brand, but good for most Republicans in Congress.

    End result – no deal. But lots of positioning trying to put the lame on the other.

  9. notaskinnycooknotaskinnycook says:

    The reason we’re in this pickle is because the neo-cons (emphasis on the “con”) are, as usual, going just that much too far. They think that they can twist the opposition into extending the Bush tax cuts for the obscenely wealthy-themselves included- by threatening entitlements and the paychecks of Federal employees. But when Federal employees are laid off and there’s no money for unemployment claims,food stamps or any other social assistance, it will cause another DEEP recession, maybe even the “d word” that dares not speak its name. Republicans have convinced themselves that the public will blame the Democrats for the fallout.                                          Sorry red guys. That’s not how this works. People aren’t actually quite that  stupid.They know where to place the blame. You’re going to lose and look bad doing it.

  10. parsingreality says:

    “Fiscal Cliff” is a term coined by the right wing media to scare the American public.  It has worked very well.  Just look at yourself, and millions of niggardly Christmas shoppers.

    Why did they do this PR job?  To scare Americans into pressuring Obama and the Dems before the Dems gain more seats in Congress.  That’s all.  I can’t swear to it, but I don’t think any of those long diatribes above addressed this fact.  Any tax changes can be undone later, making new rates retroactive.  Congress has done it often, and IIRC, that’s how the Boosh Tax Cuts were implemented.  

    At worst, doing nothing, there’s a several percent grade downhill.  On the tax side, we go back to those terrible Clinton years.  Oh, my, disaster.  

    I can’t speak to the mandatory cuts very well.  I doubt if Medicare will suddenly become more expensive, every Medicare plan has been cast in iron for many months now.  All those contracts, all those Advantage programs.  

    dwyer, like during the election run up, you’ve bought into the right wing program, regardless of where your good heart lies.

    Remember what we lefties used to say during the Iraq War runup and War on Tareism? “Be afraid, very afraid.”

    Hint:  Don’t be.

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