Gardner, Coffman Promise More, Bigger Showdowns With Obama

You know, because they have so much leverage and all. FOX 31’s Eli Stokols reports:

“People think this was a big fight over the fiscal cliff,” Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, told FOX31 Denver Wednesday. “It wasn’t. The big fight is coming up.”

Coffman, like a majority of his House GOP colleagues, voted against the Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 on Tuesday night.

“I don’t think going over the fiscal cliff would have been a huge deal,” he continued. “Temporarily, the markets would have been aggravated until the next Congress could have passed new tax cuts and ironed things out.

“But the real big deal is what’s upon us and going past the debt limit. I have to see a way out of this, real spending cuts, before I vote to raise the debt limit.”

Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, and most House Republicans, are in the same boat, promising not to raise the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling until they can force Obama to agree to deep spending cuts for entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security.

It’s easy to see, given the intransigence from Republicans over even the reduced scale two-month deal passed this week, why President Barack Obama wanted to get a much larger “grand bargain” for the purpose of getting past this agonizing and mostly unproductive debate. Now, the country faces another manufactured fiscal crisis in only two month’s time–and although the administration was able to stave off Medicare and Social Security cuts this time, there’s potentially less negotiating leverage now to do that again.

The upshot in this for Democrats, of course, is the continuing and overwhelming public opposition to making cuts to Social Security and Medicare. After all the drama of the last few weeks, it’s going to come as a rude shock to many Americans two months from now when they discover that Republicans are once again trying to cut these popular institutions. As we’ve said repeatedly, the zeal to do so, and the unvarnished way the demands for cuts to Medicare and Social Security are made by today’s GOP, make very little political sense to us.

Likewise, we’re hearing more grumbling from the left about Sen. Michael Bennet’s very splashy vote against the “fiscal cliff” compromise, one of only eight Senators (and three Democrats) to do so. It’s worth noting, as we did, that liberal Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa also voted against the bill, but for objections he very clearly articulated regarding the higher limit on income remaining covered by the Bush tax cuts. Nobody disputes that Harkin voted “no” because he thought this was a bad deal for the middle class. And nobody’s really dwelling on Harkin’s vote.

Not so for Bennet, whose “no” vote has received a great deal of press attention. Part of that is because of his status as incoming head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, but in Bennet’s statement and subsequent interviews, he has given no indication why he opposed the deal other than it “does not put in place a real process to reduce the debt.”

As a number of local press stories have pointed out today, that’s what the GOP says too.

The lack of nuance, or even some lip service to the idea of preserving popular institutions in the context of “reducing the debt,” probably do call for a fuller explanation of where Bennet stands. Knowing what we know about Bennet, we think he can explain this vote in a way that assuages liberal Democrats, and reaffirms the party’s message on the recent battle. In the absence of that, however, Bennet arguably muddies an otherwise clear distinction, and gives the GOP a bit of at least rhetorical comfort. The head of the DSCC can and should make his point better.


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