Ezra Klein explains it all: the White House’s surprisingly good 2011

Winners of the 2011 economic showdown with Congress.

The Republicans clearly won 2010. They took over the House of Representatives, several key governorships and legislatures, and therefore will get the better of Census-triggered redistricting. They got the mainstream media to join their fixation on “cutting spending” and talk about it ad infinitum, rather than talking about jobs. But 2011? It was pretty much a straight sets win for President Obama and the Democrats…

… when it comes to the substance of its budget negotiations with Congress. Impossible, you say? Klein provides a handy chart:

… and an explanation:

Thursday’s payroll-tax deal concludes the final of the four major negotiations of 2011. The first was in February, when Congress needed to fund the government or risk a shutdown. The next was in August, when Congress needed to raise the debt ceiling. Then there was the supercommittee. Then, finally, the expiration of the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance.

These negotiations were ugly. Their endgames were alarming displays of Washington’s polarization and dysfunction. They drove the approval ratings of both President Obama and the Congress to new lows. But, in terms of the substantive concessions the two parties have won for themselves, the fact of the matter is that the White House begins 2012 in a very, very strong position. Much stronger than most would have expected at the beginning of this year. And not always through any fault of their own.

For starters, the government did not shut down — not once — and the deal Democrats cut to keep it from shutting down ended up being a nothingburger. The $38.5 billion in cuts ended up being more like $20-$25 billion, with less than $400 million falling in 2011.

The debt-ceiling debate was a mess, and it probably did real damage to the economy. Some of the deals that Obama offered Boehner — which would have taken the Bush tax cuts off the table, and raised the Medicare eligibility age — would have dragged federal budget policy far to the right. But Boehner didn’t take those deals. And, in the end, the debt ceiling was lifted in return for $900 billion in discretionary spending cuts and the establishment of the trigger-backed supercommittee — a deal that ended up dragging federal budget policy far, far to the left.

The key here was that the supercommittee failed. That left two major events on the budgetary horizon: the spending trigger, which cuts $1 trillion from the budget, half of which comes from the Pentagon, and none of which comes from Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare beneficiaries, or assorted other programs for low-income Americans; and the scheduled expiration of the Bush tax cuts, which would raise taxes by almost $4 trillion. Both events are scheduled to happen simultaneously and automatically on January 1, 2013 — a dual-trigger nightmare for the GOP. And taken together, they are far to the left of anything that Democrats have suggested over the past year

Meanwhile, since no one really doubts the GOP will be forced, due to election year politics, to extend unemployment benefits and the payroll tax cut for a full year when the 60 day extension expires:

…then in the 2010 tax deal, Democrats got about $4 of stimulus for every $1 of upper-income tax cuts, rather than, as it seemed at the time, $2 in stimulus for every $1 in upper-income tax cuts.

Not bad.

Now you can expect a certain hand-wringing faction on the left to scream bloody murder at Klein, and accuse him of buying into the conservative shift in the conversation, so that “winning” means losing less than you thought you would. But on the substance, Klein is right. Republicans came roaring out of the 2010 election determined to slash government. They have not, in fact, slashed government. They have succeeded in essentially shutting down the congress, such that it is basically non-functioning, which, if you’re in the George Will “government can do no harm if it does next to nothing” crowd, is a good thing. But given the scale of the cuts tea party people were demanding, and the specific ideological tokens they were hoping for (killing the EPA and the Department of Education, cutting off funds to Planned Parenthood and PBS, etc.) they come away with literally nothing. They haven’t manage to close a single federal agency. Okay, they managed to keep old fashioned lightbulbs legal. Wave your Gadsden flags, boys!

Democrats on the other hand, managed to hold the line on entitlements, and have emerged in the public’s mind as the party fighting for middle class tax cuts, while Republicans have maneuvered themselves into being the party fighting against a penny of tax hikes for the rich, at the expense of the working class. Will that translate into big legislative wins in November? Well, November is a long ways off, in political terms. But it certainly means that President Obama and the Dems head into 2012 with a pretty strong hand.

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One Response to Ezra Klein explains it all: the White House’s surprisingly good 2011

  1. hilda banks says:

    I am so glad the President was able to go on his vacation with the wind at his back. I am sure the Repubs will be gearing up for another fight after the 60 days expires. I just don’t know why people cannot celebrate the goodness in this country. Everyone says they believe in God but I don’t think so because there is just too much meanspiritedness in this country. We should celebrate each other and try to get along because now we see that we are all in the same boat.

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