With 17 days as the crow flies before it happens, it’s time for me to do something I’ve been resisting for a week or so: formally increase my odds that we’ll go over rather than avoid the fiscal cliff.
Back in September I said it was better than 50-50 that no deal would be in place by January 1. I raised that to 60 percent immediately after the election. Today, I’m raising my predicted likelihood of no deal before January 1 to 75 percent, and I may still be overstating the possibility that an agreement will be reached and put in place before the tax cuts and spending increases go into effect.
I really hope I’m wrong, and will gladly and publicly say that if a last-minute deal materializes. But here’s why I don’t think I am:
- The Politics Have Become Worse, Not Better. The House GOP is digging in its heals even further in spite of the fact that the polls all show public opinion — including among Republicans — being firmly against it. Meanwhile, the White House, no doubt strongly encouraged by the president’s high job approval rating and the polls showing that it’s position on taxes is very popular, apparently — and understandably — sees no reason to compromise.
- The GOP Has Little To Lose At This Point By Letting The Cliff Happen. With their polling numbers already in the tank, it’s hard to see what Republicans will gain politically by voting to increase taxes in incomes above $250,000 a year other than the lasting enmity of the most anti-tax members of their base and Grover Norquist.
- Boehner Really Can’t Cut A Deal With The White House Before January 3. My prediction that this would happen was scoffed at by some when I made it months ago, but it’s now become a mainstream story. The fiscal cliff hits January 1 and Boehner’s formal election as speaker is January 3. Any deal with the White House and especially a deal that includes the tax increases the White House wants, could cause Boehner to lose enough votes at least on the first ballot on January 3 to prevent him from being speaker. Even if he subsequently wins on a later ballot, he will be seriously weakened. Note: The fact that Boehner has been openly asked this week if he’s concerned about being reelected is a sign that the possibility has become more real than anyone but me previously was willing to consider.
- It’s Still Not Clear That A Boehner-Obama Deal Would Be Agreed To Before January 1. Very simple: The political work needed to get the votes in the Democratic and Republican caucuses in the House and Senate hasn’t yet occurred and that makes the vote count very dicey. A tax cut that’s acceptable to Boehner may not be to his caucus, and larger-than-expected changes in Medicare and Medicaid that’s acceptable to the White House may not be acceptable to Senate Democrats. In addition, it’s not clear how many of the lame duck members of Congress will even show up to vote a week before their term is over
It’s certainly possible that Obama and Boehner have been performing at Oscar-worthy levels in recent days to make their respective caucuses think they are both pushing the other very hard. I doubt it. Not only are neither of them that good an actor — My Beautiful and Talented Wife (The BTW) is an outstanding professional actor so and know what that is — it’s hard to imagine how a conspiracy like that could stay a secret in Washington given how many people would have to be involved in it.
As a result, I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s only a one in four chance that a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff will be enacted before January 1. It’s far more likely we’ll go over the cliff and then fix it retroactively in January than that it can be avoided completely