Obama Won't Play That Way, Fiscal Cliff Edition

In addition to not budging on raising tax rates for the top 2 percent of earners, Obama has said he will not negotiate major budget cuts for the sort of debt-ceiling increases routinely granted to his predecessors. Reported Politico Wednesday of a meeting between Obama and the Business Roundtable:

The president also told the group that he would not allow Republicans in Congress to try and barter a debt-ceiling increase in exchange for more spending cuts, noting that the horse-trading alone over an increase last year sent the economy reeling.

"We can't afford to go there again," he said. "...The only thing the debt ceiling is good as a weapon for is destroying your credit rating... I will not play that game."

Here's the hand that's strengthening Obama's resolve:

1. He just won re-election having campaigned on getting rid of the Bush tax cuts for the top earners as a central plank of his next steps for the economy.

2. The majority of the public supports his position. A Quinnipiac poll released Dec. 6 showed Americans favored raising taxes on households earning more than $250,000 per year 65 percent to 31 percent.

3. Polling shows the public will blame the GOP for failure to come to a deal, raising taxes on all Americans. A recent Pew Research Center for the People & the Press/Washington Post poll found 53 percent said congressional Republicans would be more to blame if there's no deal by Jan. 1, while only 27 percent said they'd lay blame at the feet of Obama.

4. Obama is much more popular than Congress overall. Quinnipiac reports him with a 53 percent approval rating, while Congress has only a 9 percent approval rating, according to survey research from the Center on Congress at Indiana University.

5. If taxes go up, it will happen right at the moment Americans are feeling most financially strapped, thanks to the holidays, though it also won't happen in the first paycheck of the new year for most people.

6. No one wants to bankrupt America's charities, whether one could get the amount of desired revenue from capping deductions on charitable donations or not, just to keep tax cuts for the wealthy. Too many people rely on them for services. So that means that GOP strategy of relying on deductions is out, unless a Republican Party trying to recover from being painted as a bunch of scrooges and meanies during 2012 thinks it will help with a comeback to weaken private-sector funding for hospitals, schools, and arts groups to preserve tax cuts for the wealthy.

7. Obama is able to prosecute his case on the tax cuts and the debt ceiling with the public using all the tools and freshly organized power of his successfully concluded political campaign and the full power of the presidential bully pulpit, combined. The #My2K hashtag, the GOPHostageTakers.com site, the tweeting, the meeting with regular Americans -- it all has a familiar flavor.

8. Obama will have an even bigger platform for his views in January, thanks to the Inauguration on Jan. 21 and the timing of his annual State of the Union address.

"The president's idea of a negotiation is, roll over and do what I ask," Speaker John Boehner complained earlier this month. But Obama just solidly won reelection after a very nasty race. Why would he forgo pushing hard for his agenda right out of the gate, right after it was reaffirmed by the public?

The bottom line: The odds we go over the cliff are high if the GOP doesn't come around. Fortunately, it sounds like Republicans are starting to get the message.

Presented by

Garance Franke-Ruta is a former senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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