The current stalemate on the fiscal cliff leaves a tremendous opportunity for President Obama to go big. He has the chance to say that as we finish out the holiday season and the year there is still time to avert the fiscal cliff and that he knows how to do it.
The Republicans have punted, rejecting Speaker Boehner’s Plan B late last week and the Democrats only have a limited plan to raise taxes on those making $250,000 or above and extend the payroll tax. Their proposal does nothing about entitlements – an area where we do need reform – as well as the Alternative Minimum Tax.
The President, who today announced that he would cut his Hawaii vacation short to return to Washington, still has time to get support for a plan, though it is clearly limited. With less than a week to go until the fiscal cliff sets in, it is indeed more likely that we are going to go over.
But if this is the reality we are facing, isn’t it better to do it with a President who can come forward with a big, bold plan that is something close to Simpson-Bowles? A mix of spending cuts, tax increases and entitlement reform is what the country needs – and what it wants.
North Dakota Senator Kent Conrad, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, proposed a stripped-down version of Simpson-Bowles on Fox News Sunday. His conclusion is that the only remaining fiscal deal at this point is a scaled-back compromise between what the Republicans and Democrats want. Conrad argued that President Obama and Speaker Boehner should “split the difference” on the income cutoff, certainly not a bad idea at this point.
A former Democratic Senator and Governor who spoke to me privately had a similar take on the current situation. He, too, saw this next week as a huge opportunity for the President in the waning days of the year to rally the American people around a consensus plan that would actually solve the problem as opposed to kick the can down the road.
Indeed, we need a plan that is both plan and solution. The stop-gap deals that have been proposed do not necessarily mean that we will avert recession or more serious downturn.
At this point, and with a bleak future ahead as things stand, there is at least the opportunity to talk about something that could actually address the issue instead of going through the same thing next year and dealing with another debt-ceiling crisis.
At this point, it is only the President who has the power to change the narrative, to be big and bold and to show Americans that he is the conciliatory figure that he marketed himself as during the campaign.