Many are saying that the "Fiscal Cliff" was a crisis created by Congress, and that our leaders should not receive too much credit for solving it. This may be true, but let's remember that most recent chapter of our 4-year saga of debt-obsessed political theater was inserted as a mid-season replacement for 2011's The Debt Ceiling Hostage Crisis, a much more serious game show.
This Fiscal Cliff episode turned out to be a dress rehearsal for The Debt Ceiling Hostage Crisis Part 2, allowing for the two parties to learn to work together. Republicans decided to vote with Democrats on both sides of the Capital dome. This is good. When Republicans and Democrats realize they have more in common with each other than either party has with extremists, progress follows. Trust me. I have seen it before.
As part of last night's bipartisan compromise, the job-killing and economic-recovery-killing budget cuts known as the "sequester" have been scheduled to coincide with Debt Ceiling Hostage Crisis Part 2 in March. But thanks to a successful dress rehearsal, I predict that an emboldened White House, encouraged Democrats, and relieved Republicans will form a coalition that defeats the radical right's negligent debt ceiling tactic (holding the global economy hostage in order to force the nation into European-style austerity measures that would hurt the economy and add to the deficit and the debt by shrinking our tax base for decades to come). Instead of caving in to deranged hostage-takers, we may well see Washington achieve a "grand bargain" similar to the one President Obama has been seeking for two years now: gradual, and responsible deficit reduction that allows our economy to create jobs and continue its recovery.
Another commonly repeated analysis is that House Speaker John Boehner looks "weak" because he is unable to control his caucus. It actually takes strength to deal with people who are angry and unreasonable. The GOP is suffering from growing pains, triggered by the outcome of the 2008 election and worsened by the outcome in 2012. Tea Party Republicans in the US House, riled up by right wing media products and consumers of those products who voted them into office, have been taking extreme and fanatical positions. Boehner is in an impossible and thankless position. He isn't able to do things his way, he has to lead by consensus, and he's doing better than most others would do.
I have to admit I was furious when I learned that Boehner was counting up votes to kill the bipartisan Senate compromise to avoid the "Fiscal Cliff." But then I learned some of the details. I learned that Boehner had warned his Republican caucus of the risks — and by that I interpret him to mean political risks AND risks for the country.
I also learned that Boehner indicated that he was going to vote for the compromise. My conclusion now is that Boehner knew that he had enough votes from moderate Republicans to pass the bipartisan compromise in league with House Democrats, and that his feint toward killing the bill was his way of coping with radical extremists who had been getting the best of him for two years. Now, perhaps, that will change.
This is what I wrote on the Coffee Party Facebook page, before going to see the movie Lincoln while the vote took place:
Today, Speaker Boehner showed the kind of poise for which President Obama is often praised. He knew the right path that America needed him to take, but he had to be patient and calm, and keep the House Republican caucus from going nuts and blowing the whole thing up. He let them vent, he counted the votes to show them they didn't have the votes to kill the bill. Now he is allowing an up-or-down vote on a clean Senate bill which is expected to pass with bipartisan support. Speaker Boehner did a good job today, not just for Republicans but for America.
Speaker Boehner is proving to be a humble, calm, and cautious leader. Given that the Republican party will have a majority in the House until grotesquely gerrymandered districts can be redrawn in a way that is more fair to people of color, Boehner is well-suited to bridge the radical right-wing extremism of the Tea Party with the practical, fiscally conservative approach that makes the Republican party an indispensable part of our democracy.
I also think this bodes well for immigration reform, climate change legislation, and other issues where radical extremism stands in the way of bipartisan compromise.
And one final note: Let's just admit the fact that Republicans want the nation to focus on debt because it's a good way to attack President Obama. If avoiding debt was a governing principle that applied universally for Republicans, they would have scheduled political theater episodes throughout the Bush administration, when record surpluses from the Clinton era were turned into record deficits thanks to two unfunded wars, a lawless casino on Wall Street, irresponsible tax cuts, and an unfunded entitlement program for prescription drugs. Instead, Republicans in Congress not only went along with President Bush's deficit-exploding agenda, they voted for it.
Now that it's no longer possible to make Obama a one-term president, there is less appetite to suppress job growth and hold back economic recovery.
There will be a few dozen Tea Party extremists left in Congress after the new term begins, but the majority of Republicans do not hate the President so much that they would sabotage our economy just to harm his legacy, not without any hope of reaping electoral gains for their trouble.