Here’s what these progressives fear: an agreement that keeps lower tax rates for the wealthy, hits the social safety net with unpalatable cuts and leaves Pentagon spending unscathed. In other words, they’d rather walk the country off the cliff than watch President Barack Obama cave on long-held liberal priorities.
“If the Republicans can’t see their way to significant additional revenues targeted toward the people who are best off and targeted toward passive income and other things like that, then we’re better off going over the cliff and readdressing this with a better Congress in January,” Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said. “And we would have plenty of time to fix it.”
Bolstering the Democrats’ strategy is the belief that the “fiscal cliff” is actually shaped more like a “slope” where the economic effects will be felt gradually, not immediately. That theory gives Congress some time at the beginning of 2013 to set tax rates and configure budget cuts in a different political environment and with a new class of lawmakers.
But underlying the tough talk is also a sense of liberal angst — the left feels like it was burned by the last extension of the Bush tax rates and didn’t get much of what it wanted in the 2011 debt-limit deal.
If tax rates snap back to the higher levels from the 1990s and painful budget cuts start to hit the Pentagon, these Democrats — led by Washington Sen. Patty Murray — believe they would wield more leverage over the GOP to enact a budget compromise on their terms. And with a January deal, Republicans would technically avoid violating the no-new-taxes pledge that most of them have signed because they would then be voting to cut taxes.
Republicans would most likely bear most of the public blame if policymakers deadlock. The Pew Research Center found that 53 percent of Americans would fault GOP lawmakers if Washington fails to avert the fiscal cliff; only 29 percent would point the finger at Obama.
“This is very, very important that we hang in there to essentially get the revenue component,” said Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.). “I favor an agreement before Jan. 1, but I’m skeptical that our leadership may be able to reach one. If it’s necessary to wait to get a good deal, let’s do that.”
Murray declared in a speech this summer that she would push budget negotiations into 2013 if Republicans don’t cave on taxes for the rich. The fourth-ranking Senate Democrat repeated the threat in a Nov. 11 interview on “This Week.”