In clearest sign yet that President Obama has abandoned hope of averting the so-called fiscal cliff in the next 48 hours, he used a rare-Sunday show appearance to come out swinging at Republicans, something he’s so far avoided doing so as to not poison relations with his negotiating partners.
On “Meet the Press” today, all pretense was gone and diplomacy jettisoned as Obama placed the blame for a potential cliff dive squarely on Republican intransigence. “The only thing I would caution against, David, is I think this notion of, ‘Well, both sides are just kind of unwilling to cooperate.’ And that's just not true,” Obama told host David Gregory.
“I mean if you look at the facts, what you have is a situation here where the Democratic Party, warts and all, and certainly me, warts and all, have consistently done our best to try to put country first,” he added, paraphrasing John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign slogan. The clear implication: Republicans have not put country first, prioritizing ideology instead.
Obama has so far been gracious towards the opposing party in public statements on the fiscal cliff, at times frustrating liberals and other Democrats who want to see the president taking a firmer stance. Privately, Democratic aides have said this approach was aimed at keeping Republicans at the table. Obama even curbed some of his earlier campaign-style events across the country, which the GOP had complained about, as he began to sit down with Republican leaders in earnest.
But in the interview, which was taped yesterday afternoon, it was clear Obama thought he had nothing to lose by unloading on the incalcitrant Congress.Republicans, Obama said, “have trouble saying yes.” "They say that their biggest priority is making sure that we deal with the deficit in a serious way, but the way they're behaving is that their only priority is making sure that tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans are protected... That seems to be their only overriding, unifying theme,” he said.
Indeed, Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell was not pleased with Obama’s attack, releasing a statement almost immediately after the interview aired. "While the president was taping those discordant remarks yesterday, Sen. McConnell was in the office working to bring Republicans and Democrats together on a solution," McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said.
Leaders in Washington have been scrambling in the final days before the deadline, and the House reconvenes tonight, but Obama’s fusilade seems to confirm suspicions that both sides are making an effort to appear busy, even though there is little real prospect of a deal.
Obama went on to say that he’s a “practical guy” who has offered real compromises. “The offers that I’ve made to them have been so fair that a lot of Democrats got mad at me,” he said, citing his proposals to cut Social Security and raise the tax threshold from $250,000 to $400,000. A Center for American Progress analysis found that Obama has conceded on about 90 percent of spending cuts contained in the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction proposal -- which many Republicans favor -- while demanding only 60 percent of the tax increases the proposal suggests.
“Now the pressure's on Congress to produce,” Obama said, wiping his hands of the cliff and setting the stage for the partisan finger pointing in the aftermath. So far at least, the American people seem to be with him. While his approval rating on the fiscal cliff has hovered in the mid 50s, congressional Republicans' is mired in the 20s. Asked whom they would blame if leaders can’t come to a deal, a CNN poll found that 48 percent would blame “Republicans in Congress,” while just 37 percent would blame Obama.
On the other side, Wyoming Republican Sen. John Barrasso represented his party on the Sunday shows and turned the blame back to Obama. “What we’re seeing here is a monumental failure of presidential leadership... The president's the only person with a pen who can sign this. And it’s the president’s responsibility to work on something that the House will pass, the Senate will pass and that he will sign. But he is outsourcing this,” he said, meaning that Obama has relied too much on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid instead of negotiating himself.
If this is the Republican talking point after we go over the cliff, they are in trouble. Setting aside the fact that Obama has been meeting with bipartisan leaders and personally engaging in negotiations -- most of it actually one-on-one with Speaker Boehner -- Barrasso said nothing about why a deal would be more possible if Obama were more engaged. Essentially he’s blaming Obama for failing to effectively convince Republicans to emerge from their defensive crouch. This is like blaming police for criminals they were unable to catch.
And do Republicans really want to say they let the country go over the cliff because they didn’t like Obama’s negotiating process? That seems like a trivial reason to risk so much. It also harkens back when then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich lost the war over the government shutdown of 1995 when he whined that President Clinton made him sit in the back of the Air Force One.
Meanwhile, New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer, one of the party’s top leaders, told ABC's "This Week" today that he expected a deal would emerge after January 3, the day that a new Congress gets sworn in and House Speaker John Boehner will presumably be reelected speaker. "I am hopeful in the new year, after Speaker Boehner is elected -- reelected -- and he doesn't have to worry about" the Tea Party, he said.
Gregory also got some questions in to Obama about the second term. The president vowed to push for new gun control legislation and said he’ll make comprehensive immigration reform legislation a top priority, aiming to get a bill done in 2013. Obama also has not given up on new infrastructure spending, which he had hoped to include in the debt ceiling deal.
In any case, Obama’s New Year’s resolution seems to be to stop playing nice with the GOP. Hopefully he’ll stick to it.