Late afternoon and into the evening yesterday, the contours of a deal on the so-called fiscal cliff began to emerge in Washington. The details are fluid, as they say, but the meat of the bargain is this: about $1.2 trillion in new revenue, including from higher rates on income of $400,000 or perhaps $500,000, plus a temporary cease-fire on the debt ceiling, in exchange for a stingier formula for Social Security benefit increases (beginning in 2014) and other cuts amounting to slightly more than $1 trillion.
Things could change — and I’m getting a pessimistic vibe from the Hill about the chances that such a deal will actually be struck before year’s end. Reports I’ve seen suggesting a debt-ceiling for four years under the “McConnell mechanism” will no doubt induce howls of pain among Republicans.
But let’s assume something like this passes in early January.
Who will love it?
Virtually no one.
Who will hate it?
RedState’s Daniel Horowitz writes in reaction to Speaker’s John Boehner’s offer to increase tax rates on income of $1 million and above:
Not only is Boehner prepared to raise taxes – both through capping deductions and increasing marginal rates – he is now prepared to preemptively surrender our last point of leverage in one fell swoop. The media is now reporting that Boehner offered Obama a clean 1-year debt ceiling extension as part of the deal to raise taxes in return for fake spending cuts. … Boehner is acting like a desperate person on a sinking ship who is tossing everything overboard.
If hardliners on the right think Boehner is caving, progressives, for their part, are jumpy about the deal. Mike Konczal writes, for instance:
Personally, I think changing the COLA is a bad idea in general. The elderly face a higher rate of inflation since their spending is so dependent on health care, which is difficult to adjust or comparison shop for (the idea behind chaining the inflation rate). More importantly, of the three legs of the stool of retirement security – Social Security, private savings and employer savings plans – the two that aren’t Social Security are struggling. Employer pensions will become less secure and less available going forward. Housing wealth was wiped out in the crash. 401(k)s appear to have been a great way to shovel tax savings to the rich, but are in no shape to take over for a lack of pensions. Median wages have dropped in the recession, and are likely to show little growth in the years ahead, which makes building private savings harder. Social Security will become more important, not less, in the decades ahead. Its benefits should be expanded, not cut.
Jonathan Cohn sees the glass as half-full:
Changing the formula for Social Security cost-of-living adjustments will reduce benefits, as my colleague Timothy Noah has noted. It makes a lot more sense in the context of a broader Social Security reform package, one that includes new revenue dedicated to the Trust Fund. But if it’s a choice between that change and raising the Medicare age, or further slashing discretionary spending, the Social Security benefits alteration is probably preferable…
Unlike most overhyped conflicts in Washington politics, this deal isn’t a case of “Both extremes hate it, so it must be just right” Goldilocks centrism. This was always going to be a lose-lose for Republicans. For Boehner and the GOP caucus, it was a question of minimizing concessions on taxes and extracting at least the fig leaf of a compromise on entitlements. This deal-in-the-making, it seems to me, accomplishes about as much as Republicans could reasonably have hoped: it would make the Bush tax cuts permanent for almost all Americans, and reports indicate that it includes a one-year fix on the creeping alternative minimum tax. It doesn’t give Obama all the revenue he wanted and forced him to the table on a cherished entitlement program. This will not be the last word on U.S. fiscal policy. Republicans will not always find themselves in such a weakened position. And in the meantime, Grover Norquist can go pound sand.