How Would President Romney Deal With Fiscal Cliff?

A post without poll numbers? Will miracles never cease. A couple of days back I talked about what might happen if President Obama won re-election and was faced with decisions on the fiscal cliff. There has been plenty of talk in the last few days about how a President Romney would deal with the fiscal cliff, and the overall federal budget problems. Some great back and forth, with a columnist that I greatly respect (David Brooks) arguing that the newly moderate Mitt Romney would be in a better position to do big things on the budget. Brooks argues that the new Romney “flexibility” makes him the better choice for President because he will force the Republican Congress to “accept” a deal that includes revenue increases, which a re-elected Barack Obama could not do. As mentioned I really do like Brooks, a centrist who draws fire from both Republicans and Democrats. On this one I think he has it wrong. How does he envision Obama handling the fiscal cliff?

The first order of business would be the budget deal, averting the so-called fiscal cliff. Obama would first go to Republicans in the Senate and say, “Look, we’re stuck with each other. Let’s cut a deal for the sake of the country.” He would easily find 10 Republican senators willing to go along with a version of a Grand Bargain.

Then Obama would go to the House. He’d ask Eric Cantor, the majority leader, if there were votes for such a deal. The answer would probably be no. Republican House members still have more to fear from a primary challenge from the right than from a general election challenge from the left. Obama is tremendously unpopular in their districts. By running such a negative presidential campaign, Obama has won no mandate for a Grand Bargain. Obama himself is not going to suddenly turn into a master legislative craftsman on the order of Lyndon Johnson.

There’d probably be a barrage of recriminations from all sides. The left and right would be consumed with ire and accusations. Legislators would work out some set of fudges and gimmicks to kick the fiscal can down the road.

So Brooks speculates that the Republicans dig in and refuse to compromise (with President Obama) on revenues, and some fiscal disaster ensues which requires delay of a solution. How does he see a President Romney handling things?

To get re-elected in a country with a rising minority population and a shrinking Republican coalition, Romney’s shape-shifting nature would induce him to govern as a center-right moderate. To get his tax and entitlement reforms through the Democratic Senate, Romney would have to make some serious concessions: increase taxes on the rich as part of an overall reform; abandon the most draconian spending cuts in Paul Ryan’s budget; reduce the size of his lavish tax-cut promises.

As President Romney made these concessions, conservatives would be in uproar. Talk-radio hosts would be the ones accusing him of Romneysia, forgetting all the promises he made in the primary season. There’d probably be a primary challenge from the right in 2016.

But Republicans in Congress would probably go along. They wouldn’t want to destroy a Republican president. Romney would champion enough conservative reforms to allow some Republicans to justify their votes.

So Brooks feels that Romney should be elected because he is a “shape-shifter” who would govern as “moderate Mitt”. The column title tells it all! “The Upside of Opportunism”.

Brooks point, as I see it, is that Republicans will take their ball and go home if Barack Obama wins, but would make the same compromise with a President Romney they would refuse to a President Obama. Not sure that Brooks has it right on two Republican points.

1) Mitt Romney will support budgetary compromise, and additional revenues.

2) He would have House Republican support if he did.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor has just posted a video attacking the idea of using Simpson-Bowles as a model for solving our nations difficulties. It is true that attacks on Simpson-Bowles have come from left and right, with each side cherry picking what they like, and rejecting the part that requires “compromise”. Not sure if Brooks saw this video, but it should tell us all we need to know about the potential for Republican compromise, either with Mitt Romney or Barack Obama. The fear of right wing primary challenges to Congressional Republicans will not abate if Mitt Romney wins the Presidency. In fact it is my view that Mitt Romney will have an exceedingly difficult time getting House Republicans to agree to compromise. I agree with Brooks that Senate Dems will be looking to cut a deal, and will not hold the country hostage. I do not agree that they can sign on to a deal that contains no revenues. I have to say that it is the first time I have seen someone of Brooks stature say that we should vote for a candidate because he doesn’t tell the truth about his positions, or believes in changing those positions to suit the political terrain he is standing on. Without question I don’t agree with rewarding that type of behavior in a political candidate.

Barack Obama, if re-elected, will have steep challenges of his own to face on fiscal matters. Brooks highlights the potential Obama problems with House Republicans. Unfortunately that will not be his only challenge. The attacks on Simpson-Bowles from the left have been just as tough as the ones from Eric Cantor and the Republicans. (See, Krugman, Paul). Today’s Politico has the marker from the left being laid down. The title of the story tells it all: “Liberals Fear Grand Bargain Betrayal if Obama Wins.” From that piece:

“It will probably be messy. It won’t be pleasant,” Obama told The Des Moines Register editorial board. “But I am absolutely confident that we can get what is the equivalent of the grand bargain that essentially I’ve been offering to the Republicans for a very long time, which is $2.50 worth of cuts for every dollar in [taxes], and work to reduce the costs of our health care programs.” Administration officials say the range of options that Obama has considered in the past are well known, so it shouldn’t be a surprise if they are resurrected.
But progressive leaders don’t want Obama to go back there. Privately, they use words like “debacle” and “betrayal” to describe the backlash that would ensue. They are far more measured in their public statements ahead of the election.
The unions and advocacy groups have invested time and money in the battleground states pushing the message that Obama is better than Republican Mitt Romney on creating jobs, protecting the middle class and preserving Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.And if Obama wins, they say they plan to remind him who is responsible for delivering him a second term — and it won’t be a coalition of Republicans, deficit hawks or even independents, but rather a Democratic base that expects him to stand firm on key priorities.

Yes it is a bipartisan problem. Reaching compromise will be difficult for either man after the election. So I think that the voters ought to go in and vote for the man who best reflects the positions and values they hold. To base that vote on Mitt Romney’s malleability would be a mistake. The bete noire of the right, Paul Krugman, has it right.

And, when Republicans took control of the House, they became even more extreme. The 2011 debt ceiling standoff was a first in American history: An opposition party declared itself willing to undermine the full faith and credit of the U.S. government, with incalculable economic effects, unless it got its way. And the looming fight over the “fiscal cliff” is more of the same. Once again, the G.O.P. is threatening to inflict large damage on the economy unless Mr. Obama gives it something — an extension of tax cuts for the wealthy — that it lacks the votes to pass through normal constitutional processes.

Would a Democratic Senate offer equally extreme opposition to a President Romney? No, it wouldn’t. So, yes, there is a case that “partisan gridlock” would be less damaging if Mr. Romney won.

But are we ready to become a country in which “Nice country you got here. Shame if something were to happen to it” becomes a winning political argument? I hope not. By all means, vote for Mr. Romney if you think he offers the better policies. But arguing for Mr. Romney on the grounds that he could get things done veers dangerously close to accepting protection-racket politics, which have no place in American life.

The name of the Krugman column? “The Blackmail Caucus”. Post election compromising sure does not look promising today. I hope that changes next Wednesday morning.

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