Three weeks ago most analysts admitted—except for the irreconcilables on Fox News–that Obama defeated Romney in almost every category; popular vote electoral vote, increase in Senate seats, and gained House seats. The thinking was that this repudiation of the Republican efforts would bring about at least a brief respite, a period of commiseration, and decreased partisan bickering. All of this, it was suggested, might indeed create a hopeful environment from which Democrats and Republicans quickly would work together to keep the country from going off the fiscal cliff in January. Indeed this mood of collegiality was created; unfortunately it appears to have last for barely two weeks! Certainly, after the remarks at the end of last week and on the Sunday news show the era of good feeling has been short-lived. Mudslinging has returned with a vengeance.
Leaving aside the substance of how to construct the details of a deal—which many on both sides believe they understand– there once again appear to be major fundamental negotiating problems on the Republican side. First, there is the matter of the future direction of the Republican Party and who will lead back out of the wilderness. There initially appeared to be a growing consensus that after the losses on November 6, Republicans understood that they truly needed to move back to the center, if for no other reason than the election results clearly suggested this was where the new voting majority of the American people were. If the Republicans had accepted that conclusion, than playing ball to get a deal done fast should have been the strategy. In so doing, following the election debacle, public dissatisfaction with Congress could have been somewhat assuaged.
This approach, however, has apparently broken down and given way to the same aggressive mood the House leadership showed before the election. Speaker Boehner must obviously feel the heat coming from the Tea Party wing despite their relative quiet in the immediate aftermath of the election. He also saw that Rep. Tom Cole's willingness to push his colleagues to accept the compromise to continue the tax cuts only for 98% of Americas and not the top 2% had gathered no rallying support with the GOP. Unless Cole picks up some more voices of support within that, he may lose his leadership position, and Congress may us fall over the cliff.
There is also the fact that the future leadership of the Republican Party in Congress and for the race for the White House in 2016 is very much already being fought out even before the 213th Congress has been seated. If the Cantor-Ryan-McConnell-DeWine wing will prevail–no matter what resolution occurs in Congress in the early months of 2013 as the new Congress deals with a renewed recession–the old Republican Party may be doomed to join the Whig Party in future history books.
Not that the Dems are blameless in their play over the past three weeks. Both they and the President have engaged in a bit too much triumphalism, even if it has been predicated on a desire to move ahead. The President must give the Republicans at least one major bone which will prove that he is willing to insure that his Democratic friends will be angry as well at the compromise. There is a need for some Democrats also to be balking at an agreement; then you will know the leaders are moving in the right direction.
If the Republican blast of cold air is followed shortly by some serious deliberations—in private and behind closed doors–then making headway to have a bill out by December 5th and passed by the 23rd could send Members home smiling behind their compromises and the public more at ease at their Christmas tables.