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ROBINSON: Boehner’s weak hand in ‘fiscal cliff’ talks

  • (SIGNE WILKINSON / Philadelphia Daily News)

How dare he? President Barack Obama, I mean: How dare he do what he promised during the campaign? How dare he insist on a “balanced approach” to fiscal policy that includes an teensy-weensy tax increase for the rich? Oh, the humanity.

Republicans are having conniptions. Witness the way House Speaker John Boehner reacted when Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner presented the administration's proposals on taxes and spending: “I was flabbergasted,” Boehner told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.” “I looked at him and said, ‘You can't be serious.' I've just never seen anything like it. You know, we've got seven weeks between Election Day and the end of the year. And three of those weeks have been wasted with this nonsense.”

The ‘nonsense' in question is a set of perfectly reasonable measures that Obama wants Congress to approve. Nothing in his package should be a surprise — except, perhaps, that the president has opened this negotiation by demanding what he really wants, rather than what he believes it would be convenient for Boehner to deliver.

“The president's idea of a negotiation is, roll over and do what I ask,” Boehner groused.

Hmmm. Where do you imagine the president might have learned this particular bargaining technique? Might his instructors have been Boehner's own House Republicans, who went so far as to hold the debt ceiling for ransom — and with it, the nation's full faith and credit — in order to get their way?

Obama's proposals include effectively taking away congressional authority over the debt ceiling, which would preclude a repeat of last year's hostage crisis. Boehner called it “silliness” to think that Congress would willingly surrender a power it can use to “leverage the political process.” So it's fine when Congress uses muscle to get its way but not when the president does the same? “Right now, I would say we're nowhere, period,” said Boehner. “We're nowhere.” Not true. It's just that we're somewhere Republicans would prefer not to be. We're just past an election in which Obama won a second term and Democrats gained seats in both houses of Congress. And we're nearing a “fiscal cliff” of tax increases and budget cuts that horrify Republicans more than Democrats.

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