Obama Brings a Pen to the Fiscal Cliff Knife Fight

Both President Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner have revealed their opening gambits in the great fiscal cliff chess match, and they are basically what everyone expected. 

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Both President Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner have revealed their opening gambits in the great fiscal cliff debate and they are basically starting from the same spot they've been in forever. Boehner held a second press conference on Friday morning to reiterate his position that raising taxes is not acceptable. Obama followed it up with a short White House speech in the afternoon  reiterating his position that the wealthy need to pay more in taxes. The president basically admitted that not only should this news not be surprising, it's basically what the entire election was fought over. An election that he won, by the way: "On Tuesday, night we found out the majority of Americans agree with my approach."

But a deal still has to be made, so Obama also announced that he's inviting Congressional leaders (as well as other business and community leaders) to the White House next week to get the ball rolling on negotiations. Obama said, "I am not wedded to every detail of my plan. I'm open to compromise. I'm open to new ideas."

One key detail that was seized upon by some Fiscal Cliff watchers is that Obama, just like Boehner, said he wants to increase "tax revenue,"  but did say he wants to raise tax rates. That tiny bit of wiggle room, could be the space where a deal is struck. If both sides can come up with a way juggle the tax code to get more revenue out of rich people without raising their actual income tax rates, then both sides might be able to claim a victory when all is said and done.

The president also expressed a wish to "extend middle class tax cuts right now" and is so ready to do that he even brought his own pen to sign a bill that the Senate has already approved. (He literally pullled a pen out of his pocket to shake at the crowd.) That might also be interpreted as a "kick the can" measure, where both sides agree to that one initial step of good faith, in exchange for pushing back the January sequester deadline and allowing time for a more comprehensive budget plan when the new Congress arrives next year. That's an idea a lot of people are in favor of both, because of the unlikelihood of getting a solid deal done in the brief lame duck Congress, and because it wouldn't rock the boat on a slowly recovering economy.

One of those people is not Paul Krugman. The New York Times columnist called on the Democrats to cede nothing in the negotiations, avoid any and all grand bargains, and stick it to Republicans—even if that means driving right off the fiscal cliff and temporarily tanking the economy. (Because it's not really a fiscal cliff anyway, and there's plenty of time to set things right if it gets to that point.) Not exactly the spirit of bipartisanship that everyone is talking about post-election, but a tempting offer from those who want to see the president use every ounce of leverage he has against the House.

That all sounds very dramatic and serious, of course, so if you need a break from all this financial doomsaying, checkout the political hashtag game of the day: #StarWarsFiscalCliff. Because it's not a real news story until it gets a meme with Star Wars quotes.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.