Believe it or not, the word of the week is not "cliff." Or "fiscal." It is "unserious."
Both sides in the negotiations over how to avoid the fiscal cliff—President Obama and House Republicans—have called the other side's proposal "unserious." There is always some posturing in these types of negotiations, and some of the rhetoric surely falls into one of the above categories. But the fact is, President Obama's proposal clearly shows he is not serious about reducing spending.
Raise taxes now by $1.6 trillion, he says, and later on, he will agree to $400 billion in to-be-determined entitlement savings … if he also can get $50 billion in infrastructure spending. There's bidding high in hopes of getting most of a loaf in negotiations; then there's this proposal.
The president and his supporters seem to think they can avert this and future fiscal cliffs; put Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security on firm ground; set up Obamacare; and pass another stimulus package sure to be just as "successful" as the others. And they think they can pay for it—all of it—by reducing defense spending, double-counting money from wars that are winding down anyway, and perhaps a ritual sacrifice of a token legacy program.
It's not going to happen. Unlike on November 6, the president does not have the votes.
Harvard political scientist Harvey Mansfield recently noted the future success of America depends on whether "Republicans can get entitlements to be understood no longer as irrevocable but as open to negotiation and to political dispute and to reform."
They already have. Despite Rep. Nancy Pelosi's best efforts to make them pay for it, House Republicans voted for the Ryan budget, the first real attempt at the modern entitlement reform ever, and lived to tell the electoral tale.
As House Speaker John Boehner said on Fox News last Sunday, 10,000 baby boomers retire every day. They know a nation that borrows 42 cents of every dollar it spends no longer can credibly promise them a public pension and reasonable healthcare. They may disagree on how to fix this, but they know the present situation is untenable, and more taxes and more spending are not the answer.
In fact, it seems as if the wind is now at Republicans' backs … if they can maintain the courage to fight. A poll for the centrist Democratic group Third Way found 41 percent of those who supported President Obama on November 6 said the problem could be solved mostly through raising taxes and cutting defense. But 41 percent essentially agreed with the Republican position—that entitlement reform and spending reductions provide the path back to prosperity.
Grover Norquist says to televise the negotiations because he believes Americans who watched would side with the cut-spending forces.
Mitt Romney didn't win the election, but he did make one point voters appear to accept—that President Obama doesn't really have a plan to fix the fiscal mess. He can't seem to find a way to move the needle.
As a result, Republicans need not give in to Obama's latest "plan." They need not acquiesce in spending or tax hikes. They can stay true to their brand—as the party of fiscal restraint—and, eventually, the president will have to come to their side.
That's because, despite Democrats telling us "everything changed" on November 6, nothing truly did. Least of all the Constitution, which says money bills—taxes and spending—must emerge from the House.