If you watched the just concluded address the president gave on the Fiscal Cliff, tell me if you agree with the feeling I got from it: the president looked, sounded and smiled like a winner. And I can probably tell you why. Hell, he was practically gloating. Plainly spoken, he and his team just punked the Republicans, yet again. They got the Republicans to release the middle class hostage, without giving them a damned thing.
Look at what he's getting:
- Higher taxes on the richest Americans (the level is yet to be determined, and the president pointedly stayed away from confirming the $400K/$450K numbers floating around, but taxes are going up). He just forced Grover Norquist's Republican party to allow a tax increase. Big. F*cken. Deal.
- The middle class tax credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, child tax credit education tax credit and other Obama stimulus tax credits are staying in place for 5 years, as are the breaks for small businesses, especially for the clean energy industry (I don't think most people running around with their hair on fire realize how big a deal this is for the environmental community). The Alternative Minimum tax is fixed permanently not to affect the middle class.
- Unemployment benefits extension.
- An increase in the estate tax rate to 40% (the exemption level remains at $5 million, from MSNBC's reporting, but I will confirm later).
What do the Republicans get in return? Bupkiss. Nada. Nothing. A big fat zero. So basically, the president permanently protect working people and the poor and the middle class, permanently raises taxes on the rich, and the additional tax revenue from that. Republicans get no entitlement changes, not even a permanent aversion of the cuts hitting defense and other Republican sweetheart industries.
And the president, in his address was brilliant in sticking a sharp stick in the eyes of the Republicans on those: he told them that if they want to avert those cuts later, they have to come up with additional revenues to balance those cuts. They can't count the revenue added through whatever the possible fiscal cliff deal ends up being tonight. Republicans want to avert the defense cuts? Show us some revenue. Where will those revenues come from? As the president said, it will come from those who can afford to pay it most, the rich, at least as long as he's president. And well, as he was keen on reminding the GOP, he's going to be president for the next four years. He's not done raising taxes on the people who have had it best.
There is another tactical brilliance to the president's address: he just told the American people that a deal is going to get done, and that agreements are close. If Republicans walk away now, they will look like complete duds who are hell bent on raising taxes on and penalizing the middle class. So he cornered them, told them he cornered them, and he told them that they have no way out.
So, let's recap. I was wrong to say that Republicans got nothing in this deal. They got less than nothing. They are in the red here. They are crying uncle and releasing the middle class hostage, in exchange for having to come up with even more revenues from the rich (maybe we can now see Boehner's plan to raise revenue from "limiting deductions" on the rich only) when they seek any spending cuts, or to avert/replace any of the sequestration cuts they don't like.
You want to see what a master negotiator looks like? Then look at the guy who just got a deal to release the hostage (middle class and the poor) and in exchange gave the hostage takers less than nothing.
I don't know if Republicans - or for that matter, hair on fire Lefties - realize how big a win this is for the president. This is a BFD. Republicans are cornered, they can't back out, they have no escape. They got us here. They rejected all the reasonable offers the president made just to protect tax rates for the rich. And now, they can't even do that, and they have lost all leverage to force spending cuts without even more revenue. The Republicans went in for a fight all in, and they wouldn't take yes for an answer, so the president just took all their chips and left them holding nothing but teabags.
Before I end though, I think I would be remiss if I ended without giving credit to the inside worker from the president's side on this: America's happy warrior, Vice President Joe Biden!