Something had to pass. The "fiscal cliff" had to be averted—of course this is true; it was in all the papers. And the deal that emerged will be characterized as a victory for President Obama and a signal the Republican Party is in serious turmoil.
According to the narrative, President Obama "split" the Republicans, destroyed their fealty to opposing all tax hikes ever and broke the spirit of his opponents with bold, mandate-infused negotiating. But a closer look reveals "You get nothing for that; I get that for free" could well end up being for Obama what "Mission Accomplished" proved to be for President George W. Bush— overheated bluster that came back to bite time and again.
First, what on Earth is he bragging about? On his central point—the Bush tax cuts had to end for anyone making $250,000 or more—he was forced to give considerably. The limit was set at $400,000. Moreover, the deal added to the deficit and the debt and set up at least three more showdowns over the next six months —the debt ceiling, the sequestered cuts and a budget resolution—all of which likely will be fought on ground more favorable to his opponents.
On top of all that, the president proved not only that he can't work with Republicans, but that he doesn't play well with Democrats either. He got bullied into replacing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid with Vice-President Biden as his chief negotiator, and Reid is unlikely to forget this during future showdowns.
Yes, President Obama won re-election, and elections have consequences. But President Obama managed to cash out all his spoils and leave a lot of bitterness behind in both parties and both houses of Congress—all for a two-month reprieve that did nothing to address our structural fiscal problems. Americans will notice when their first paychecks arrive this year that most of us took a tax hit, and, at some point, they will likely begin to wonder how far this might go if the real work of governing does not begin soon. And all but the fiercest partisans are tired of hearing how it's all George W. Bush's fault.
What this deal reveals is "soaking the rich" may make for good campaign rhetoric, but it doesn't address the very real problems American confronts. Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security already account for more than 60 percent of federal spending, and that percentage figures only to climb as 10,000 people turn 65 every day. Wasteful spending on subsidies for wind farms and agriculture only add to the problem.
At the end of the day, it's not unfair to say President Obama is not much of a negotiator. He held all the cards and escaped with a deal. He did not lead. He showed no depth for working with Congress or others inside the Beltway, and his inclination to bully when he had the upper hand, to humiliate his opponents rather than seek accommodation and to spike the ball early and often through the final days will prove costly in the negotiations ahead.
Obama spent a lot and got little. He had a tremendous hand but still managed to overplay it. He made enemies when he could have made enduring friends. And two months from now, when we do this all over again on the debt ceiling, he needs to be much better prepared to show true leadership or get ready to face some consequences not even his handmaidens in the mainstream media will be able to whitewash.