While voters express strong interest in compromise on the fiscal cliff, they also support President Obama over congressional Republicans, strengthening his hand. Obama declared on Monday that he would not be compromising on taxes.
A Gallup poll taken over the weekend found that 70 percent of Americans believe leaders should compromise to avoid the collision, rather than stick to principles. This is a bump up from 62 percent the week before.
But that same poll also found that 48 percent approve of the president's handling of the matter, compared to just 26 percent approving of congressional Republicans.
Not surprisingly, that approval gap leaves the president little incentive to compromise as he conducts a "campaign style" offensive for his agenda of raising taxes on the wealthy while retaining the Bush-era tax cuts for the middle class.
"Obama brought his pressure-Congress campaign to the heart of industrial America," the AP reported, "ripping lines from his own re-election bid as the nation inched closer to a perilous economic cliff. He said the country couldn't afford a "manufactured" crisis and pledged to cheering auto workers that he would fight to extend tax cuts for the middle class before they expire at year's end."
Last week on CNBC, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner explained the hard line on higher tax rates for the wealthy.
“What we’re trying to do is put in place a comprehensive, balanced set of fiscal reforms that put us back on the path of living within our means and create room for investing to make the economy stronger, make sure we're protecting Medicare for future generations and forcing the government to use the taxpayers' resources more wisely,” Geithner said.
“In that context, you have to have a significant amount of revenues. We don't see a way of doing it that makes any sense or has any political viability without rates going up as part of that deal,” Geithner said. “Again, the size of the problem in some sense is so large it can't be solved without rates going up. I think there's a broad recognition of that reality now.”
Republicans have already moved significantly on taxes, offering $800 billion in revenue increases, while hoping for some kind of corresponding cuts in entitlement spending. As yet, the president has seemed willing to pocket the former while remaining evasive on the latter.
Two weeks ago, when Geithner called for $1.6 trillion in new revenues but offered nothing specific in spending reductions, Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnel "burst into laughter," the Weekly Standard reported.
Flummoxed and in retreat, Repubican leaders are vowing to draw a hard line on spending cuts a few months from now when the debt ceiling again needs to be raised to accommodate the ongoing federal spending surge.
"In February or March, you have to raise the debt ceiling," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told Fox News Monday. "And I can tell you this: there's a hardening on the Republican side. We're not going to raise the debt ceiling. We're not going to let Obama borrow any more money or any American Congress any more money until we fix this country from becoming Greece."
Eric Schulzke writes on national politics for the Deseret News. He can be contacted at [email protected].