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November 17, 2012

Brinkmanship at the edge of the fiscal cliff

If you were hoping last week’s elections might lessen the odds of a high-stakes game of chicken over the economy-wrecking “fiscal cliff” of tax hikes and spending cuts set for Jan. 1, don’t hold your breath.

The federal status quo remains largely intact, with President Barack Obama winning another term and slight Democratic gains in the House and Senate. That means we again will enjoy the same cast and crew whose reckless impasse last summer over the debt ceiling set the stage for this winter’s cutoff.

Obama wasted no time making his case – correctly, according to myriad exit polls – that most Americans would prefer a budget plan that includes not only spending cuts but also tax hikes on the wealthy.

“I just want to point out this was a central question during the election,” Obama said Nov. 9. “It was debated over and over again. And on Tuesday night, we found out that the majority of Americans agree with my approach.”

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, struck a conciliatory tone in his post-election comments, saying he’s open to a plan that would increase federal revenue. However, he said, the plan must cut income taxes for those in the highest bracket below the current 35 percent rate, not the 39.6 percent rate looming on Jan. 1.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was more strident, saying: “Now it’s time for the President to propose solutions that actually have a chance of passing the Republican-controlled House of Representatives … To the extent he wants to move to the political center, which is where the work gets done in a divided government, we’ll be there to meet him half way.”

McConnell’s head-scratching conclusion that the elections had somehow validated or increased his leverage with Obama was echoed by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., who said the president has no mandate to raise taxes because if you “keep raising tax rates on job creators, it will cost us jobs.”

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