Fiscal Cliff 2013: Obama, Congress Must Overcome the Tea Party to Fix the Debt

In the past couple of days, much has been written on why President Obama won, what the Republican Party needs to do differently going forward, and why Obama will still be hampered by a Tea Party-centric House, as the nation turns its attention to the "fiscal cliff," immigration reform, tax reform, and energy independence. Already one hears loud whispers that "nothing has really changed," that the situation is one of status quo, all at a cost of billions of dollars and many months of useless frustration.

This is nonsense. President Obama's hand has been strengthened considerably. Numerous obstacles to tackling the nation's challenges were removed the moment Colorado put him over the top. What changed?

First, the notion of President Obama as being some sort of "other" disappeared overnight. There will be little or no talk of "taking our country back," birther movements, Kenya fixations, being un-American, etc. When President Obama coined the 2008 campaign line "We're the change we've been waiting for," it had a very cool, maybe even profound-sounding ring to it. What we learned in 2012 is that he meant it literally. We. We the people have changed.

In that sense, an attack on President Obama as somehow being un-American will now resonate as an attack on the majority of Americans. We the people. One can speculate whether Washington will address immigration reform, and whether the Republican Party will ultimately try to adjust to the new Obama ethnic coalition. But what we can count on, starting right now, is that the vast majority of the president's political opponents will no longer shoot themselves in the foot by attacking the leader of a majority coalition who reflects the demographic character of that coalition.

Second, the electoral victory in Colorado came with its own special prize: a new game clock. No longer does President Obama have to parse the issue of whether progress in America's economic recovery should be measured from the day he took office in 2009 or from the day a year later when that recovery began. The debate about what the starting reference point was or should be became ancient history overnight. All that matters now is that the economy is likely to keep growing under his second term watch.

Yes, the fiscal cliff could still send us back into recession, but addressing it will not be viewed by anybody as a burden to be borne by President Obama alone. Moreover, unlike the summer of 2011, when the old game clock only had 15 months left on it, the new one has 50 months left on it. Nobody opposing the president will dare try to run that clock out. Many house members know that their 2014 game clock may well run out before the president's does.

Third, one cannot underestimate the stature that is inherent in being a two term president. So much goes into being re-elected, and a lot of power and political flows from it. This is somewhat of an intangible that many people don't recognize, even if it is a part of every American's political subconscious. But the politicians in Washington? They get that. Big time.

In his election night speech, President Obama outlined four key objectives for his second term: addressing the fiscal cliff, tax reform, immigration reform, and energy independence. Lost in the political battles and cat fights of the past two years has been one simple truth: The resolution of all of these objectives is actually much further along than many realize.

In addressing the intertwined issues of tax reform and the fiscal cliff, even last summer the two sides were only 10% apart. Both Obama and Boehner agreed on a $4 trillion deficit reduction target. President Obama and his Congressional allies were prepared to accept a deal involving $1.2 trillion in "revenue increases" and $2.8 trillion in spending cuts. Speaker Boehner and the Tea Party House members were only willing to agree to $800 billion in revenue increases. $400 billion is a lot of money, but it still only represented a 10% difference on the $4 trillion. Of course, that last 10% is not insignificant, but the point is that any political objective that starts with a ninety percent resolution can be addressed given a new reality.

The argument that the president will benefit from a changing balance of power on immigration reform as a result of the election is self-evident. For obvious reasons, many Republicans started clamoring for it within 24 hours of Colorado being delivered to the president.

Finally, on energy independence, President Obama had long made it clear that pending environmental due diligence that was expected to take months and not years, he was all for it. 

In short, with a new mandate of popular legitimacy rooted in today's American demographics, a new game clock, and the aura of being a two term president, Obama has significantly enhanced his ability to address all of these issues successfully. It is obviously in his interest to do so, but the same can be said for the Republicans in the House. Things have already changed since Tuesday. It is change that, finally, we can believe in.

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Bennet Goldberg

I have a strong interest in international relations and foreign policy. After earning a BA (George Washington) and a MA (Johns Hopkins-SAIS) in International Relations, I enjoyed a 20 year career in international business, and like thinking about as well as debating foreign policy and geopolitical issues. I live most of the year in the SF Bay Area and part of the year in Montreal, Quebec, and have traveled the world extensively. I am between somewhat conversational (Italian, Spanish, French) and fluent (German) in several languages, and enjoy reading news/political opinion in these languages. My greatest interest is in Central European history and contemporary politics.

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