WASHINGTON — Amid demands from Republicans that President Barack Obama propose detailed new spending cuts to avert the year-end fiscal crisis, his answer boils down to this: YOU first.
Obama, scarred by failed negotiations in the first term and emboldened by a clear if close election to a second, has emerged as a different kind of negotiator in the past week or two, sticking to the liberal line and frustrating his erstwhile negotiating partners.
Disciplined and unyielding, he argues for raising taxes on the wealthy while offering nothing new to rein in spending and overhaul entitlement programs beyond what was on the table last year. Until Republicans offer their own new plan, Obama will not alter his. In effect, he is trying to leverage what he claims as an election mandate to force Republicans to take ownership of the difficult spending choices ahead.
His approach is borne of painful experience. In his first four years in office, Obama repeatedly offered what he considered compromises on stimulus, health care and deficit reduction to Republicans, who either rejected them as inadequate or pocketed them and insisted on more. Republicans argued that Obama never made serious efforts at compromise and instead lectured them about what they ought to want rather than listening to what they did want.
Either way, the two sides this weekend were left at loggerheads with less than a month until a series of painful tax increases and spending cuts automatically take effect, risking what economists say would be a new recession. Obama refuses to propose more spending cuts until Republicans accept higher tax rates on the wealthy, and Republicans refuse to accept higher tax rates on the wealthy while asking for more spending cuts.
Obama seemed to defy the Republican House last week when Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner delivered a plan calling for $1.6 trillion in additional taxes from the wealthy over 10 years plus $50 billion in short-term stimulus spending and $612 billion in recycled spending cuts first put on the table during last year’s failed debt talks.