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Was Fiscal Cliff Deal a Stinker, or Did Obama Win One?

Mike Tomasky of the Daily Beast and AlterNet's Joshua Holland have very different views on the question.

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In 2011, when, let’s face it, most of those people that I just mentioned would rather have a Republican president. In 2011, they were placing their bets on the hope that there might be a Republican president. They didn't want to be seen as biased against the Republicans in Congress.

Now, Barack Obama has won again. We’re three, four years away from another presidential election. I think Obama can persuade a lot of those people to pressure Republicans to act like rational human beings. Which is quite a sentence I just spoke, but I think he can persuade them to be more on his side. Public opinion and elite opinion will both be in Obama’s corner.

JH: I want to respond with just two quick points. Which is that public opinion was entirely in his corner on this last fight. The polls were extremely clear that everybody wanted to see the Bush tax cuts for the top 2 percent expire, and the middle class kept from facing tax increases. That did not happen.

Secondly, I completely agree with you about elite opinions. Especially Wall Street opinion about the debt limit. I don’t understand how – and this seems to be implied in your argument -- how we can have a separate fight over the debt limit and the continuing resolution – with a threat of a government shutdown – and the sequester. These are all happening at about the same time, so again, he can say, "I am not negotiating on the debt limit," and he can be right, technically. But he still’s going to have to face hostages. And are you going to get that elite opinion saying, "no, you can’t negotiate on a budget deal"?

MT: I’ll concede your point there. You won’t get that, but I do think you’ll still have public opinion on his side. Now, you’re also right that public opinion was with him here.

Look, these Republicans in Congress, you can’t really... they don’t respond to the same political incentive structure that we’re used to people responding to. We know that very well.

All you had to do was watch how Mitt Romney sucked up to the right-wing in his primary campaign to see that. They’re not afraid of general elections against Democrats, they’re afraid of primaries against people to their right. That’s what dictates their behavior. I think having said that, he did … I wouldn’t say broke their back, but he weakened their spine a bit this time. He won this round. He did win this round. If he plays it right, he can win another round.

Now there are going to be cuts, there are going to be budget cuts to domestic programs that we’re not going to like. If there are also cuts to Pentagon programs, and if there’s also a little bit more revenue, and if Social Security and Medicare are basically untouched -- I mean if the only real savings that come from those are rational Medicare savings and reimbursement rates to specialists and things like that, things that we all agree can basically be sources of savings. If a deal can meet those criteria, and I don’t think it’s unrealistic to meet those four criteria, then he wins again.

JH: Before I let you go, one final point that I kept thinking about and coming back to when I was reading your essay. You framed the piece as the left wishing that Obama would be a fierce liberal lion and the responsibility to the duties of office. You write that there’s “a responsibility that comes along with being the president. It may be unfair, but the leaders of the House and Senate can play all the silly games they want to. Half the country or more doesn’t even know who they are. But the president—he’s supposed to do stuff.”

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