Friday, February 3, 2012
Here's a chart from TPM, attempting to explain the reasons for the president's decline and rebound in popularity. I would probably also factor in economic worries, including the last few months' perceived improvement in the economy, as another explanation for the rebound. But certainly we should be able to agree that the debt ceiling fight last summer did neither the president's nor Congress's popularity any favors.
If we take that as a given, then what does it mean that the Republicans in Congress are now trying to walk away from the deal they struck last summer? Remember the deal was that if the super-committee could not agree on additional deficit-reducing measures, then automatic spending cuts, that were designed to be unpalatable to both sides, would take effect. Well, the super-committee failed to agree, and now the Republicans in Congress want to change those spending cuts they don't like (essentially defense cuts).
President Obama seems to be dug in here. He has already said he is not going to rescue Congress from this jam. And he is not under the same pressure he faced last summer to make a new deal with the Republicans (last summer, he had to make a deal or the Republicans might have allowed the government to default on its debt obligations). And if the president were to strike a new deal with the Republicans now, eliminating some of the automatic defense cuts, that would not help his popularity, as the chart above suggests. That means the president and the Senate Democrats will probably hold firm this time, insisting that the defense cuts take effect, or the Republicans go along with some revenue increases. The Republicans can probably be counted on to refuse to agree to anything that sounds like a tax increase.
And then what? The Republicans will have to run in the fall campaign on the platform that no matter what, they will not allow the rich to pay a penny more in taxes, and that they wanted to spend more money on defense, but the Democrats won't let them. How does that help their argument that we need to make tough choices to reduce the deficit? President Obama may have suffered a decline in popularity by bending over backwards last summer to try to make a deal with Congressional Republicans. But as usual, he appears to have been thinking way ahead to the 2012 election campaign. And has positioned his side to have much the better of the argument.