The first Friday morning of the first 11 months of 2012 brought exciting news for political journalists. At exactly 8:30 a.m. the Bureau of Labor Statistics would upload the latest jobs report to the Internet. The agency's website would often crash as journalists rushed to pore over the figures. Cable news spent hours parsing through the shifts in the inevitable topline figure: whether the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate went up or down. Were they examining these reports to assess the state of the economy, trying to discern the next best steps for the government to correct our path out of the recession? Of course not. These speculations focused on how the new set of numbers might swing the presidential election.
Despite the daily drumbeat of news coverage parsing every statement that comes out of Congress, there has been minimal progress toward a deal to avert the tax increases and spending cuts that will be triggered on January 1. Save a handful of possible apostates who have critiqued Grover Norquist's no-tax pledge, the Republican bloc has largely refused to contemplate any rate increases for the top tax bracket. Obama has all the leverage. All of the Bush tax cuts expire at the start of 2013; should that happen, the president can (correctly) accuse Republicans of grandstanding against middle-class tax cuts only to spare the upper echelon from paying a tax rate of 39.6 percent instead of the current 35 percent.
The next generation of Republican leaders has cast aside Mitt Romney as they jockey for position as the eminences of the party. The man who just last month Republicans had hoped would become president is persona non grata—and if that wasn't already clear, last night his former running mate Paul Ryan left no doubt with his reference to Romney's "47 percent" fiasco. "Both parties tend to divide Americans into ‘our voters’ and ‘their voters,’” Ryan said at the Jack Kemp Foundation awards dinner in Washington. “Let’s be really clear: Republicans must steer very clear of that trap.
Republican elites have been pushing the party to moderate its image in order to stave off losses as the national electorate becomes increasingly diverse. But all the preening is unlikely to amount to substantive change. Sure, Republicans can talk about softening their tone against undocumented workers, or agree to hypothetical tax hikes, but when it comes down to it, they are still indebted to the right-wing base.
Since President Obama unveiled his proposal for the fiscal cliff last week, Republicans have been complaining that it’s nothing new. “After the election, I offered to speed this up by putting revenue on the table and unfortunately, the White House responded with their la-la land offer that couldn’t pass the House, couldn’t pass the Senate, and it was basically the president’s budget from last February,” House Majority Leader John Boehner told reporters this afternoon.
As such, there’s been some anticipation about what Republicans would offer. If the GOP is so opposed to old ideas, then surely they’d come up with something new and exciting to break the impasse over the fiscal cliff?