FISCAL CLIFF

Obama willing to go over the fiscal cliff, White House says

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There is some evidence to bolster that notion.

Taxes were a centerpiece of the presidential campaign, with Obama running on a pledge to end the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and return their rates to where they were in the 1990s, when the economy was thriving. Exit polls showed that 60 percent of voters supported that position, an even higher percentage than backed Obama's re-election.

A new poll also suggests a majority of Americans would blame Republicans if the government goes over the fiscal cliff.

Just 27 percent of those surveyed said they would blame Obama, compared with 53 percent who said they would point the finger at the GOP, according to the Washington Post-Pew Research Center Poll.

Seeking to cement those impressions, the White House is casting Republicans as willing to forgo tax cuts for the middle class in order to protect lower rates for wealthier Americans.

Rates for all income earners will go up at the end of the year if both sides can't reach a deal. In turn, Republicans say Obama is acting like a stubborn partisan who will put the economy in peril in order to get his way.

"My sense is the White House wants to go over the cliff," said Tony Fratto, a former Treasury and White House official under President George W. Bush. "That may be the only way they get rates they want."

Going over the cliff could mark a new low in the relationship between the president and congressional Republicans. While the contentious debates earlier in Obama's first term over funding the government and raising the nation's borrowing limit went right up to the edge, both sides were always able to reach a deal.

As Obama ran for re-election, he sought to assure voters weary of Washington's bickering that things would be better if he won a second term. Speaking to supporters in June, he said, "I believe that if we're successful in this election - when we're successful in this election - that the fever may break."

"My hope, my expectation, is that after the election, now that it turns out that the goal of beating Obama doesn't make much sense because I'm not running again, that we can start getting some cooperation again," he added optimistically.

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