Abysses and Gaps
By Caio Blinder
For the leaders ... it is this immense challenge: not just preventing the abyss, but diminishing the gap.
Translated By Jane Dorwart
12 December 2012
Edited by Gillian Palmer
Brazil - Veja - Original Article (Portuguese)
There is this “fiscal abyss” (I'm with the political alpinists who prefer the term “slope,” a less alarming term!) involving negotiations between Barack Obama's Democrats and the Republicans over taxes and public spending. Each side has its theology — Republicans against taxes and Democrats in favor of public spending — and there are tactical and strategic considerations involved: Who will yield? How to appease the various wings of the parties? How to reconcile the ideological convictions with the interests of the electorate and even with the national interest?
The two main alpinists are President Obama and, clearly, the speaker of the House, Republican John Boehner. For Obama, who was able to climb the hill and win the election in November, the goal is to have a successful second term. For Boehner, a measure of success will be to keep the party united "as far as possible,"* with some wards simply in a state of denial about the defeat in November and averse to any kind of compromise on the fiscal abyss or any abyss. Yes, the Republicans kept the House, but they lost the election because they ended up with fewer candidates in the two houses (in the Senate, the Democrats increased their majority).
The options in the “fiscal abyss” now are a large bargain, a little bargain or the absence of an agreement. We will know if the national leaders are great, if they are small or if the country simply is in need of them. Those being led want everything. The public opinion polls are confusing. Americans agree with Obama about taxing the richest, but in general do not want to pay more taxes [or] cut benefits, and say they are concerned about profligate spending.
Ah, and Americans do not like Congress; this is a bipartisan sentiment. This is the same Congress, which set up this pitfall of the fiscal cliff for them in 2011, deciding on this automatic increase of taxes and spending cuts starting in January.
Obama is in a more comfortable situation to negotiate; without an agreement, taxes will increase for everyone, and even the Republicans — the anti-tax party — will pay the piper. Moreover, opinion polls show that by a very comfortable margin, Americans will assign responsibility to the Republicans for damages caused by the absence of an agreement, such as a recession in 2013.
Negotiations are tortuous. Obama won, but the country continues to be divided — and not just in Washington. The party divisions are rigid, with a huge gap between the two sides. The system of drawing district boundaries (the correct word, “redistricting,” is ugly) widens the gap and reduces the incentive to negotiate.
The post-electoral map shows how the red areas (Republicans) are more red and the blue areas (Democrats) are more blue. The indicators of polarization, courtesy of the Cook Political Report, are striking. Also dramatic are the electoral results, although they are still incomplete (still lacking seven districts).
Of the 234 Republicans elected to the House, only 15 are from the districts in which Obama won. And of the 201 elected Democrats, only nine are from districts in which Mitt Romney was the victor.
And the lawmakers don't just have the complete confidence of having partisan districts; a quarter of them won by a landslide, with more than 70 percent of the vote. They are in Washington with a triumphal mandate. What is the incentive to make concessions, even if it is in the national interest or the party leadership? For the leaders, however, it is this immense challenge: not just preventing the abyss, but diminishing the gap.
*Editor’s Note: This quotation, accurately translated, could not be verified.
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