Fiscal Cliff 2013: Bipartisan Leadership is Needed, But Nowhere to be Found


With less than two weeks of scheduled work days remaining before the end of the current congress, there appears to be little, if any, bipartisan leadership to avoid going over the fiscal cliff.

Either that, or Republicans and Democrats are willing to extend this game of chicken until the very last minute with Democrats confident the GOP cannot afford any more wounds and will give in on tax rate increases.

None of us are mind readers. We’re not capable of becoming invisible so we can sit in on behind-the-scene discussions. We really don’t know if public statements from the president and congressional leaders are just part of a public relations game or the true status of negotiations. 

Let’s look at the key players.

President Obama – Continues to say he wants to work with the GOP but an increase in tax rates for those earning over $250,000 per year cannot be compromised.

Nancy Pelosi – I doubt Nancy Pelosi knows what bipartisanship is. She has been steadfast in her statements that without a raise in tax rates on the top 2% we go over the cliff.

Harry Reid – The Senate majority leader continues to stress Congress needs to reach an agreement, but when publicly acknowledging the proposal put forth by Speaker Boehner says the speaker needs to now get serious.

Timothy Geithner – The Treasury secretary has publicly expressed gratitude to what he sees as GOP progress. However, he goes on to say that without the requested tax rate increases there is no deal.

John Boehner – As the lead negotiator for the Republicans, the Speaker of the House has put forth a proposal of spending cuts and increased revenue to counter the president’s offer. The increased revenue would be derived from closing certain loopholes and ending some deductions for the upper 2%. After a private meeting with President Obama over the weekend, he has asked the president for a list of what cuts he would accept.

Mitch McConnell – The Senate Minority Leader has thanked the president for his willingness to reach a deal, but unlike the speaker, refuses to discuss increased revenue.

What about the rank and file? By an overwhelming majority, voters favor raising taxes on the wealthy in order to reach an agreement. Some GOP lawmakers have made statements expressing a willingness to discuss an increase even going as far to say increasing tax rates should be on the table. Some have even disavowed the Grover Norquist pledge. At the same time, many Republican House members were elected or re-elected with sizable majorities based on their commitments not to raise taxes. This creates a dichotomy. Is avoiding the potential ramifications on the economy worth risking possible anger of their constituents? I believe they are looking to leadership to help them resolve this.

From public statements it appears the rank and file are being more pragmatic and recognize the GOP has little room to press its demands. Democrats realize this so they do not feel pressure to compromise, especially given polls that show Americans will blame the GOP if no agreement is reached by December 31.

If there are any, who are the bipartisan leaders? If you look only at the “leaders,” John Boehner clearly knows the situation and knows the GOP cannot lose this battle. The problem is he cannot let down his guard in public. The rank and file Republican membership also knows this and is saying so publicly. They are the bipartisan leaders, but if they can influence the eventual outcome is unknown.