Ideological Showdown! (not really)
So the president is meeting with progressive groups and unions to get a sense of where they stand on the fiscal cliff. What good news. Maybe he'll finally get the message that it's not all about raising taxes it's also about not cutting vital programs for average Americans.
Unfortunately, that's not what reporters seem to think is going to happen. The only argument they seem to think is up in the air is how much the rich are going to be required to pay:
BLITZER: One of the most pressing issues right now for the president of the United States, how to avoid what's called the fiscal cliff. The president is planning a series of meetings with outside groups before sitting down with members of Congress. I'm joined by our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin. Jessica, what's the strategy here?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hey, Wolf. Well, you know, the president said he felt that one of the problems in his first term was he got stuck in, basically, a headlock with Congress. And he clearly doesn't want to start there in a second term.
So, in the next two days, he's meeting with labor leaders, progressive groups, business and opinion leaders, essentially, to get Democrats on the same page and shore up his own base before talking to Congress.
Now, afterwards, you can expect them to send out selling the message, pressuring members of Congress to pass whatever comes up the negotiations. Also, Wolf, to press the president on their own agenda for the fiscal cliff.
BLITZER: The Democrats, as you know, Jessica, they are certainly not all on the same page, are they?
YELLIN: No, they're not. And you know, we focus on how this is a struggle between the White House and Republicans. It's also a struggle within the Democratic Party. Some Democrats, they say, taxes should go up for families making $250,000 and more like the president. But some say that hits too many middle class families, especially urban and suburban areas.
They want the line to be higher, $500,000 or a million dollars and more. Those are the people who should see their taxes go up and then close deductions for those people, too. So, there will be challenges within the Democratic Party to get everyone together as well as within the Republican Party and some of those labor leaders meeting with the president also want to make sure he doesn't touch Social Security, Wolf.
BLITZER: The president repeatedly says he wants taxes to go up for people who make $250,000 a year or more. So, is that negotiable?
YELLIN: That's big question. You know, that is the official position of the White House. Last week, the president repeated that people making 250,000 and up must pay more was his phrase. He didn't say what rate they must pay. But the question is, will the president move of that? You know, he has made clear, the president has, that he learned lessons from negotiating in his first term.
And one theory is, he could be playing tough with this line and maybe it will be move. He does have a forcing mechanism this time around. Taxes automatically go up if Washington does nothing. So, he has extra motivation on his side to force a deal, maybe that number could change.
BLITZER: Because if Congress does nothing between now and the end of the year, taxes go up on everyone, not just on the wealthy, middle class families. Everyone will see a hike in their taxes starting January 1st.
YELLIN: It gives him more leverage.
BLITZER: Yes. All right. Thanks very much, Jessica, for that.
Now keep in mind that this is the Village POV. I suspect that the president will hear from some of the labor leaders and progressive groups that a few hippies here and they are a tiny bit concerned about the possibility that in the quest for the holy grail of "revenue" from millionaires that the Democrats are going to lose sight of the scope of cuts to vital programs for many millions of average Americans that will required to get them.
From what I can gather that's not high on the agenda. We are apparently on a grand crusade to get tip money from the wealthy and Democrats should be happy to agree to absolutely anything anything that will entice enough Republicans to take that deal. If a few million people have to be sacrificed it will be worth it. Nothing matters more than winning the rich people's chump change debate.
It's unclear how the White House is approaching today's meeting. According to this article by Sam Stein, the progressives are preparing to do battle over the so-called entitlements and will require that a deal features no benefits cuts:
This puts negotiators, mainly those inside 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., in more than just a small bind. During negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in the summer of 2011, the White House was willing to agree to cuts to Medicare, changes to the program's eligibility age, and deductions in Social Security benefits, even without demanding an end to the top-rate Bush tax cuts. A year and a half later, progressives are saying, essentially, don't make that deal again..
Some moderate Democrats are up for reelection in 2014, making them reluctant to cast tough votes. But they already passed the president's preferred tax cut package (raising rates only on incomes above $250,000) and the election results showed that they can run on a no-apology, Democratic platform and win.
"Every signal we've been getting from them is they want to fight this thing and stick to the lines they've drawn on taxes," said a top Senate Democratic aide who spoke about caucus sentiment on condition of anonymity. "We passed that bill already. That was a huge deal. At the times people pooh-poohed it. ... But having [Senators] Jon Tester and Claire McCaskill vote for that bill and win election is a huge deal in terms of morale and fortifying the ranks."
Again with the taxes. Oy. Can we all just agree that everyone in the Democratic party thinks taxes are the greatest thing that's ever happened to America and if we can get Republicans to allow us to raise them "a little bit" on rich people we will be the happiest people on earth?
Anyway, the White House believes they have things well in hand:
The White House also has more political capital now than before. The country just voted in favor of its agenda (parts of which can be accomplished if the president simply vetoes the alternatives). And in addition to a self-proclaimed, quasi-mandate on tax policy -- which Vice President Joe Biden mentioned last week -- there is a sense from within the administration of stronger trust from the base.
"The relationship has come a long way since last summer and it is important to our success that we continue to work well with the progressive community," said one top White House official. "Now, everyone won't agree with everything we do, but having good communication and a foundation of trust is critical to achieving our shared goals."
And our shared goals are? You guessed it -- tax policy. The rest? Well, I'm afraid everybody's got to have some skin in the game, shared sacrifice etc, etc...
Stein appropriately concludes his piece with a lugubrious comment from Third Way:
"I think the idea of thanking the base in some sort of unified, symbolic way is either fantastical or a mistake. I think that is what George W. Bush did in the beginning of '05, when he tried to privatize Social Security, which was the ultimate gift to his base and turned out to be a disaster for him and derailed the rest of his agenda," said Matt Bennett, senior vice president for public affairs and a co-founder of the centrist-Democratic think tank, Third Way. "Obama will have learned that lesson and won't try to hit a grand slam that will solidify his base."'
This is what it's come to: refusing to cut benefits to veterans, the elderly and the sick in order to solve a non-existent problem is considered giving a "gift" to the base. That's a sad comment on our alleged victory on November 6th.