Their explanations reeked of tired ideology about never raising anyone’s taxes and the lack of spending cuts. If not for Speaker John Boehner’s last-moment decision to allow the bill to pass without a Republican majority, everyone’s income taxes would have gone up.
The unwillingness of Mr. Boehner’s caucus to join such decisions for the common good suggests that the 113th Congress, which begins on Thursday, will be bitterly unproductive, and possibly even more dangerous than the last Congress. Republicans say they are more determined than ever to extract the maximum amount of budget-cutting pain in the next two months by threatening not to raise the debt ceiling.
That’s a far more serious prospect than going over the fiscal cliff. Letting the Treasury run out of borrowing authority would mean a default on the nation’s credit, a catastrophic prospect for holders of government bonds around the world. It could result in further credit downgrades and lead to sharply higher borrowing costs. It is an unimaginable prospect for a responsible country, yet it almost happened in 2011 because of the irresponsibility of Congressional Republicans.
Mr. Obama sounded resolute on Tuesday night in vowing he will not submit to this blackmail. “I will not have another debate with this Congress over whether or not they should pay the bills that they’ve already racked up through the laws that they passed,” he said. But will he really keep this promise?
The White House won several victories in the fiscal-cliff package, but its eagerness for a deal disappointed many who believed the president’s promise to raise far more revenue. It is hard to see how he avoids giving in to Republican demands, as he was forced to do in 2011.
Mr. Obama has also said he will demand equivalent revenue increases for every dollar of spending cuts won by Republicans over the next year. That could be done by further limits on deductions and loopholes for corporations and the rich, including eliminating the carried-interest loophole that lets hedge fund managers declare that their income is a form of capital gains. But it will be a struggle to uphold that pledge, given the maddening nature of his opponents.
In the weeks to come, Republicans will use not just the debt-ceiling threat, but also the $100 billion across-the-board cuts known as the sequester, delayed for two months in this week’s deal, and the potential shutdown of the government when the current spending resolution expires in March. Standing up to brinkmanship will require a level of resolve that the president has yet to fully demonstrate.
Original editorial on The New York Times