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Last week, Noam Scheiber suggested that "To Save His Second Term, Obama Must Go Over the Fiscal Cliff." At the time, it was an intriguing argument. After this week, the argument appears compelling. Paul Krugman writes:
[I]t looks as if Republicans have taken the offer as a sign of weakness, as a starting point from which they can bargain Obama down. Oh, and they’re not giving up at all on the idea of using the debt ceiling for further blackmail.
In other words, all of a sudden it’s feeling a lot like 2011 again, with the president negotiating with himself while the other side enjoys the process. So Obama needs to draw a line right now: no further concessions. None. He’s already given too much.
Yes, this probably means going over the cliff. So be it: it’s less bad than the alternative.
I think it goes further than that. The trajectory of the negotiations now is that the GOP will not accept the deal Obama offered, and it was not really a good deal anyway. They will insist on a worse deal. The president can not negotiate back to an acceptable deal now without resetting the negotiations. Only going over the cliff can do that.
On top of the President's fumble this week is the fact that the debt ceiling hostage situation is just around the corner. The president has to set the stage for that as well. As Scheiber wrote:
The only way the party leadership will be able to appease these holdouts is by promising all-out war on the rest of the president’s priorities, beginning with demands for massive spending cuts when the debt-ceiling has to be raised next year. The Republicans “will give way … but seething,” Josh Marshall has written. “The right of the party will not accept anything less than another debt-ceiling hostage drama.” If Obama somehow manages to survive that fight, then they will simply seize on the next opportunity to defeat him (like the March 2013 budget vote that will be necessary to keep the government running), or the next one after that.
The president, not unreasonably, wishes for an era of good feeling in Washington. But those are pipe dreams. At some point, the president has to realize that wishes don't come true in DC.
He has to fight. And he has start now. By being willing to go over the cliff.