Opinion
Grading City Hall: See our report card for L.A. City Council President Herb Wesson
Top of the Ticket
Opinion Top of the Ticket

Conservatives complain, but 'fiscal cliff' deal was a win for them

With all the moaning coming from the Tea Party Express and its loyalists in the House Republican caucus, you would think conservatives had lost everything, including their virtue, in the "fiscal cliff" parlay with President Obama, because taxes are going up on the wealthy. However, if they could just get past their prudish sensibility about backroom compromises, they might recognize that their side actually did rather well in the dead-of-night deal-making.

Yes, Democrats can claim some good results in the last-minute bargain that was struck to avoid the immediate across-the-board tax hikes and budget cuts that were set to begin on Jan. 1. The George W. Bush-era tax cuts for people making more than $400,000 a year were eliminated and capital gains taxes and estate taxes were raised, providing new revenue sources that Democrats insist are necessary. Those are significant wins for the president and his party, and forcing Republicans to let these higher tax brackets go through is a satisfying symbolic victory.

But the mandarin of the anti-tax movement, Grover Norquist, is coming out of this showdown with a big smile on his face, which should make Democrats wonder if their "victory" is a bit of an illusion.

Norquist has kept Republicans in line for years by making them take his pledge to never, ever raise taxes. On this deal, though, he gave them a pass. In fact, he expressed support for the final deal. Why? Because, as he points out, it gives Republicans what they have claimed to want ever since they implemented the tax cuts a decade ago: permanence. Not for everybody -- the top 2% of Americans will be paying more -- but 98% of taxpayers now have their tax breaks locked in.

Weirdly, Democrats are cheering about this while Republicans are complaining. Ten years ago, Democrats insisted on making the tax cuts temporary because they said the revenue loss would be so huge it would send the deficit soaring. Republicans at the time expressed faith in the unproven idea that tax cuts were such a boost to the economy that they paid for themselves.

Now, that unproven idea has been proved wrong, but that did not keep Obama from making most of the tax cuts permanent, as Republicans desired all along. Brazenly, many Republicans are now the ones saying these tax cuts for the middle class need to be paid for with budget cuts, lest they balloon the deficit. They will take that argument into the next phase of the budget battle, and they will argue, additionally, that, because Democrats already got the revenue they demanded, it is time for big spending cuts to bring down the deficits and debt.

Many liberals are insisting that Obama settled too quickly and, now that he has used up his advantage on taxes without making a broader deal that pinned down what will and will not happen with spending reductions, the Republicans have gained the upper hand. The president insists that he will hang tough and will not let the other side force changes in Medicare and Social Security funding by using the looming deadline to raise the debt ceiling as leverage.

The fiscal cliff fight was just the opening round in a bigger budget slugfest that will play out over the next two months. Conservatives may think their bloodied lip is a sign they lost that first round, but, in truth, they may already be ahead on points.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
  • Campaign 2012 had a wildly preposterous, but true, storyline

    Campaign 2012 had a wildly preposterous, but true, storyline

    Seated inside a cavernous auditorium in Charleston, S.C., just days before that state's presidential primary in January, I was feeling downright gleeful. Spread out before me was a vast, gaudy, multi-screen, red-white-and-blue stage set worthy of “American Idol.” A CNN producer was warming up a...

  • New year likely to arrive with no rescue from the 'fiscal cliff'

    New year likely to arrive with no rescue from the 'fiscal cliff'

    The "fiscal cliff" looms ahead and it is a solid bet that no one will come up with a deal in time to stop the country from careening off the edge. Nearly everyone claims they want to avoid the automatic tax increases and massive budget cuts that will start kicking in on Jan. 1, but few are ready...

  • Senate maneuvering spares Planned Parenthood -- for now

    Senate maneuvering spares Planned Parenthood -- for now

    A series of hidden-camera videos by anti-abortion activists capturing Planned Parenthood executives discussing tissue harvesting from aborted fetuses has renewed calls by Republicans to eliminate all federal support for the organization. But as bad as it's been lately in Washington for Planned...

  • Fast-tracking VA firings makes for bad policy

    Fast-tracking VA firings makes for bad policy

    The scandals that rocked the federal Department of Veterans Affairs last year rightly had some high-reaching consequences, including toppling secretary Eric K. Shinseki. Whether Shinseki’s successor, Robert McDonald, has been able to effect much of a cultural change within the department that provides,...

  • Can a Dear Cal letter get you into Berkeley?

    Can a Dear Cal letter get you into Berkeley?

    High school seniors vying for acceptance at UC Berkeley face daunting odds. Until about 50 years ago, Cal admitted any applicant with a B average in college-prep classes. As recently as 1985, the acceptance rate was above 50%. With a record 79,000 applicants in 2014, Berkeley now admits only 17%,...

  • Trans-Pacific Partnership must not undermine U.S. rules on intellectual property

    Trans-Pacific Partnership must not undermine U.S. rules on intellectual property

    U.S. negotiators recently concluded a 50-nation agreement to promote free trade in about 200 high-tech products, a pact that has drawn praise from seemingly all quarters. The goodwill generated by the new Information Technology Agreement may not last long, however. This week, negotiators may complete...

Comments
Loading
68°