The agenda laid out by both Mr. Boehner and Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, jibed well with the demands of small-government conservatives who have complained that neither leader has been sufficiently confrontational with Mr. Obama.Krugman's column takes in the big picture about the current conflict consuming our national politics. He calls it a class war. Republicans want to undo the New Deal and Great Society to lock in low taxes for the wealthy. The identity of the Democratic Party is predicated on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and now Obamacare. Since the GOP doesn't have the power to pass any legislation all it can do is extort cuts by means of threat -- of default (by refusing to vote for an increase in the debt ceiling) or government shutdown (by refusing to approve a continuing resolution at the end of March). The class war will be fought in budgetary battles. As Krugman says:
Both said cutting spending would be front and center, putting them on a collision course with the president and Democratic leaders. And neither was taking seriously the president’s pledge not to bargain over raising the government’s statutory borrowing ceiling.
[T]he G.O.P. retains the power to destroy, in particular by refusing to raise the debt limit — which could cause a financial crisis. And Republicans have made it clear that they plan to use their destructive power to extract major policy concessions.Rationality is the ability to recognize a pattern and act on it. The clear pattern at work here is that Obama says one thing to appeal to his base -- those voters who put him in office -- and then ends up acting differently. Now that the election is over what leverage do voters have to alter this pattern?
Now, the president has said that he won’t negotiate on that basis, and rightly so. Threatening to hurt tens of millions of innocent victims unless you get your way — which is what the G.O.P. strategy boils down to — shouldn’t be treated as a legitimate political tactic.
But will Mr. Obama stick to his anti-blackmail position as the moment of truth approaches? He blinked during the 2011 debt limit confrontation. And the last few days of the fiscal cliff negotiations were also marked by a clear unwillingness on his part to let the deadline expire. Since the consequences of a missed deadline on the debt limit would potentially be much worse, this bodes ill for administration resolve in the clinch.
So, as I said, in a tactical sense the fiscal cliff ended in a modest victory for the White House. But that victory could all too easily turn into defeat in just a few weeks.