NBC's Chuck Todd achieved a minor milestone of hackery on the Rachel Maddow Show on January 1. The phony "fiscal cliff" had been discussed since the election as occurring at midnight on December 31, when the Bush tax cuts expired. Democratic activists and commentators had been saying all along that Obama needed to show he was willing to "go over the cliff," i.e., let the tax cuts expire on December 31, to maximize his leverage in the negotiations.
And that's what happened. Faced with the Republican Party being saddled with a notable increase in taxes for all federal income taxpayers and the Democrats demanding they be cut, House Speaker John Boehner defied what Charlie Pierce calls the "feral children" that currently dominate his caucus and allowed the January 1 bill to go through, essentially a Democratic bill with a few pieces of corporate welfare attached.
But the Beltway pundits were not only in love with the "fiscal cliff" narrative. They also seemed to be confident that a deal would be done just in time to avoid "going off the fiscal cliff." So when midnight of December 31 rolled around with no deal being approved by Congress, the punditocracy apparently decided to stick with their narrative anyway.
So there was our friend Chuck Todd on TV Tuesday explaining that the "fiscal cliff" moment hadn't occurred because the real "fiscal cliff" moment was noon Thursday when the new Congress would be seated. Or, as Chuck put it, on Tuesday, it's really still 2012 because the new Congress hadn't come in, though he did his journalistic duty and explained that it wasn't technically true that it was still 2012, because it was, you know, already 2013.
Chuck and Luke Russert seemed almost giddy at being able to chatter on like sportscasters about who was doing what and what the next play might be. If they considered the substance of the bill to be newsworthy, it certainly wasn't evident in that moment. But, hey, they kept their "avoiding the fiscal cliff" narrative intact. Even if they had to redefine the calendar to do it.
My favorite of the lame-duck period is in this Washington Post article: David Fahrenthold, et al, How McConnell and Biden pulled Congress away from the fiscal cliff 01/02/2013:
At one point, Reid was unhappy with an idea that Senate aides said came from Obama — to put the change in Social Security benefits back on the table in exchange for a delay in spending cuts and a rise in the debt limit.All proposals to cut benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid should be consigned to the fires of Hell like Reid symbolically did with that one.
Aides said Reid actually tore up the proposal and threw it into the blazing fire in his ornate green marble fireplace. The paper burned. Reid said he didn’t want evidence that the idea had ever been considered.
But that report reminds us once again how committed Obama has been to his Grand Bargain to cut benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. We have to expect that to be a recurring problem for his whole second term, and particularly the next six months. It would also be helpful if every Member of Congress including Nancy Pelosi who has publicly gone wobbly on defending benefits for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid were to face a serious primary challenge in 2014. That should stiffen the spines of the Democrats in Congress on the issue and make them even more willing to toll Obama reactionary Grand Bargain notion into the fireplace like something to be ashamed it was ever discussed in their presence.
Tags: austerity economics, barack obama, fiscal cliff, grand bargain, medicaid, medicare, social security