No Deal on Fiscal Cliff for Now

US President Barack Obama makes a statement about fiscal cliff negotiations from the White House December 31, 2012 in Washington, DC.


After a long afternoon when a fiscal cliff deal kept being imminent, the House leadership has said there won’t be any fiscal cliff votes today.

A lot of reporting is saying that the only holdup in the deal is disagreement about how to deal with the budget sequester cuts, but that strikes me as an understated way of saying it. On tax rates, you’ve got a compromise. Which is to say that conservatives and liberals are both being asked to swallow something they’re not totally thrilled with. Then in another bucket you have this sequester stuff. Depending on what that is, a member of congress might look at it and say “there’s some tax stuff here I don’t love, but the spending stuff makes it worthwhile.” That’s how a legislative package works. But if you don’t know what the spending stuff is, then you can’t assess whether all things considered the tax stuff is good enough.

The cliché is that in a complicated DC negotiation like this “nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to” and that’s a good rule of thumb. But a natural corollary of that is that a deal that encompasses everything but the sequester doesn’t actually encompass anything.