President Barack Obama's strategists are increasingly convinced he will win a big victory over Republicans in the current budget showdown, and as a result his position will be enhanced going into the congressional battles of 2013.
A budget win would give Obama more leverage almost across the board, Democratic advisers say, because he would be dealing from a position of newly acquired strength. "And if the Republicans keep protecting the rich, they will be seen as more out of touch than ever," says a senior Democratic strategist.
A budget victory is seen as particularly valuable in boosting Obama's ability to win passage for comprehensive immigration legislation next year, including provisions creating a path to citizenship or legal residency for millions of illegal immigrants. That's because, if Obama outmaneuvers or faces down the GOP on the budget, he will be seen as a better negotiator and a more formidable adversary than in the past. Overall, Obama and his strategists believe a victory would create more public confidence in government and in his leadership.
Obama and congressional Republicans are trying to avoid the "fiscal cliff," the name given in Washington to the combination of tax hikes and big spending cuts scheduled to automatically go into effect starting Jan. 1, 2013 unless Congress and the president can agree a compromise. Failure to do so could create another recession, economists say.
A bare majority of registered voters — 52 percent — expect a deal to reduce the federal deficit will be reached by the end of this month, while 42 percent say it won't, and 6 percent are unsure, according to the latest Marist poll.
"Most voters are worried about the fiscal cliff and think reaching a deal by month's end matters," says Lee M. Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. "But, like Washington, voters are polarized along party lines on the question of whether to allow the Bush tax cuts [passed during George W. Bush's presidency] to expire and for whom." Democrats want the current tax cuts to expire for the rich, while Republicans want the lower rates to continue for everyone, including the wealthy. Congressional Republicans would be to blame if a deal isn't reached according to 47 percent of those polled; 36 percent say it would be Obama's fault; 11 percent say both would be responsible, and 6 percent aren't sure or say neither would be to blame.
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Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," for usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Facebook and Twitter.