At first blush, President Obama’s inconclusive televised announcement this afternoon made the long-running “fiscal cliff” negotiations sound like the end of Samuel Beckett’s classic play Waiting for Godot:
OBAMA/VLADIMIR: Well? Shall we make a deal?
BOEHNER/ESTRAGON: Yes, let’s make a deal.
They do not move.
But then I read Digby’s analysis of a separate statement issued by Senate party leaders Reid and McConnell (who have been delegated the task of writing last-minute legislation). Her persuasive take is that come Monday, the Democrats in both houses may be lured into providing a majority of the votes for substantial spending cuts and tax increases, as Republicans stand back pseudo-helplessly and smile. This is mostly for the sake of a meaningless procedural accomplishment (avoiding the so-called cliff), but also, as Digby notes, because “the sequester will be taken care of — nobody’s going to allow the defense industry to lose even a penny. Nobody.”
As many others have been writing for months, this makes no sense. Yes, there are beneficial tax and spending provisions that will expire January 1 if the “cliff” becomes reality — but a set of “Obama tax cuts” can be passed easily within weeks, and less politically irresistible measures can be won by holding hostage some less-heralded items that are highly coveted by the GOP. Most notable among the latter is a compromise on the estate tax, which will rise sharply (from 35% with a $5 million exemption, to 55% with only $1 million exempted) if no deal is made.
Given the increased leverage that Democrats will have after we go “over” the supposed cliff, perhaps the best advice to Harry Reid (and President Obama) is the aphorism coined by Beckett in his posthumously published Worstward Ho:
Try again. Fail again. Fail better.