Charles Krauthammer: It's nothing more than an Obama power play

Published: Sunday, Dec. 9 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

FILE - This Nov. 16, 2012 file photo, President Barack Obama, accompanied by House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, speaks to reporters in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington. President Barack Obama’s re-election has stiffened Democrats’ spine against cutting popular benefit programs like Medicare and Social Security. Their new resolve could become as big a hurdle to reaching a deal for skirting economy-crippling tax increases and spending cuts in January as Republicans’ resistance raising tax rates on the wealthy. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

Carolyn Kaster, AP

Enlarge photo»

WASHINGTON — Let's understand President Obama's strategy in the "fiscal cliff" negotiations. It has nothing to do with economics or real fiscal reform. This is entirely about politics. It's Phase 2 of the 2012 campaign. The election returned him to office. The fiscal cliff negotiations are designed to break the Republican opposition and grant him political supremacy, something he thinks he earned with his landslide 2.8-point victory margin on Election Day.

This is why he sent Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to the Republicans to convey not a negotiating offer but a demand for unconditional surrender. House Speaker John Boehner had made a peace offering of $800 billion in new revenues. Geithner pocketed Boehner's $800 billion, doubled it to $1.6 trillion, offered risible cuts that in 2013 would actually be exceeded by new stimulus spending, and then demanded that Congress turn over to the president all power over the debt ceiling.

Boehner was stunned. Mitch McConnell laughed out loud. In nobler days, they'd have offered Geithner a pistol and an early-morning appointment at Weehawken. Alas, Boehner gave again, coming back a week later with spending-cut suggestions — as demanded by Geithner — only to have them dismissed with a wave of the hand.

What's going on here? Having taken Boehner's sword, and then his shirt, Obama sent Geithner to demand Boehner's trousers. Perhaps this is what Obama means by a balanced approach.

He pretends that Boehner's offer to raise revenues by eliminating deductions rather than by raising rates is fiscally impossible. But on July 22, 2011, Obama had said that "$1.2 trillion in additional revenues ... could be accomplished without hiking tax rates, but could simply be accomplished by eliminating loopholes, eliminating some deductions and engaging in a tax reform process." Which is exactly what the Republicans are offering today.

As for the alleged curative effect on debt of Obama's tax-rate demand — the full rate hike on the "rich" would have reduced the 2012 deficit from $1.10 trillion to $1.02 trillion.

That's a joke, a rounding error.

Such nonsense abounds because Obama's objective in these negotiations is not economic but political: not to solve the debt crisis but to fracture the Republican majority in the House. Get Boehner to cave, pass the tax hike with Democratic votes provided by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and let the Republican civil war begin.

It doesn't even matter whether Boehner gets deposed as speaker. Either way, the Republican House would be neutered, giving Obama a free hand to dominate Washington and fashion the entitlement state of his liking.

This is partisan zero-sum politics. Nothing more. Obama has never shown interest in genuine debt reduction. He does nothing for two years, then spends the next two ignoring his own debt-reduction commission. In less than four years, he has increased U.S. public debt by a staggering 83 percent. As a percentage of GDP, the real marker of national solvency, it has spiked from 45 percent to 70 percent.

Obama has never once publicly suggested a structural cut in entitlements. On the contrary, he created an entirely new entitlement — Obamacare — that, according to the CBO, will increase spending by $1.7 trillion.

What's he thinking? Doesn't Obama see looming ahead the real economic cliff — a European-like collapse under the burden of unsustainable debt? Perhaps, but he wants to complete his avowedly transformational social-democratic agenda first, and let his successors — likely Republican — act as tax collectors on the middle class (where the real money is) and takers of subsidies from the mouths of babes.

Or possibly Obama will get fiscal religion and undertake tax and entitlement reform in his second term — but only after having destroyed the Republican opposition so that he can carry out the reformation on his own ideological terms.

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS