The latest twist in the fiscal cliff negotiations is that John Boehner’s put an offer on the table that would have put Barack Obama in a really tight spot back in 2011. Boehner now says he would agree to raise the debt ceiling for one year and to establish a higher marginal income tax rate on people earning over $1 million if Obama will agree to serious cuts in domestic “entitlement” spending.
In light of the fact that the Bush tax cuts are scheduled to automatically expire, that’s a deal that’s very tilted toward the right.
But I could see it prompting serious debates inside the administration has it been offered during the 2011 debt ceiling standoff. Back then the White House was a bit desperate to get a deal. In part that was because of the looming threat of the debt ceiling. In part it was because of the looming reelection battle—a fight where they thought they’d have a stronger hand if Obama could run as a bipartisan dealmaker. In part it was because of the greater economic fragility at the time. And in part it was because of the President’s weaker support within the Democratic Party congressional caucus. Today the president has already been reelected and the incoming Democratic Party legislative caucuses are both larger and more liberal than the outgoing ones.
The Boehner offer is full of blank spots. Based on The New York Times account, Boehner has simultaneously offered the millionaires’ bracket proposal and also agreed to an $800 billion revenue target even though the millionaires’ proposal wouldn’t come close to achieving that target. And it’s not clear what kind of entitlement cuts we’re talking about. But what we can know is that the whole attraction of putting entitlement cuts on the table to the White House is the prospect of getting more from Republicans than the $800 billion or so they can probably get just by playing hardball on tax revenue. That might mean getting more revenue (although I think that’s a bad deal) or it might mean more stimulus or it might mean a permanent solution to the debt ceiling issue. Nothing like that seems to be in this Boehner offer. Boehner is trying to wriggle out of the position of being the guy who’s unwilling to compromise on anything, but he hasn’t managed to become the guy who makes an offer that any Democrats are going to want to say yes to.