A new poll again underscores the fact that in political terms President Barack Obama is probably at his political peak as he plays what Dean Esmay calls a high-stakes game of “chicken” with GOPers in Congress over the fiscal cliff.
U.S. voters trust President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies more than congressional Republicans to make “good faith” efforts to deal with pressing issues, including the deficit-reduction talks, according to a poll released today.
The poll also shows that, by a more than 2-1 margin, voters support Obama’s proposal to let tax cuts expire as scheduled for high earners. That’s a key sticking point in the current negotiations over cutting the deficit while averting more than $600 billion in tax increases and spending cuts set to start in January — the so-called fiscal cliff.
In the survey by Hamden, Connecticut-based Quinnipiac University, Obama’s approval mark surpasses 50 percent for the first time in more than 18 months, as 53 percent give him a favorable rating compared with 40 percent who disapprove of his job performance. Obama was in negative territory in July, with 45 percent approving his job as president and 49 percent disapproving.
“Nothing like winning an election to boost your job approval,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac polling institute.
But there is a second part of the new political dynamic that needs to be factored in by those assessing how the current political battle is likely to end: House Speaker John Boehner now has more solid backing from GOPers in Congress than ever. The New York Times:
With a daunting fiscal crisis looming and conservatives outside the House torching him at every turn, Speaker John A. Boehner might be assumed to have a shaky hold on his gavel. Instead, it appears he is enjoying the broadest support of his tumultuous two-year speakership from House Republicans.
As Mr. Boehner digs in for a tense fiscal confrontation with President Obama, the strong embrace from a broad spectrum of the rank and file may empower him as he tries to strike a deal on spending cuts and tax increases that spares the country a recession, without costing Republicans too much in terms of political principle.
With the election results ensuring another four years with an empowered adversary in the White House, and a growing docket of polls that show voters ready to blame Republicans for a failure to avert the so-called fiscal cliff, many House Republicans appear to view Mr. Boehner with the same sort of respect that adult children award their parents for the sage counsel they ignored in their younger days.
Should his support hold up, Mr. Boehner, who faced a frequent battering from his own members over the last two years as he tried to seal deals on various spending agreements, would be better able to negotiate from a point of relative Republican unity.
And, most important, he would be viewed as able to sell a deal to his once-fractious caucus.
On Wednesday, in a private meeting between Mr. Boehner and House Republicans, member after member spoke in support of him, in some cases saying a deal they would have rejected six months ago would most likely be taken today.
“I want to be a strong advocate and say that I am with the speaker,” said Representative Scott Rigell of Virginia, a House freshman. “I am with the leadership.”
Further helping Mr. Boehner, at least for now, is the sense that he is no longer forced to look constantly over his shoulder, fearing a counterproductive move by Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the majority leader who has spent much of the past two years quietly maneuvering around Mr. Boehner.
Plus there is another factor that needs to be considered — one that strengthen’s Boehner’s hand:
The virtual political evaportation of former Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who makes news these days when he shops at CostCo in San Diego for Christmas gifts and bulk packages of toilet paper, rather than for articulating a political point of view. The Times again:
But with Mitt Romney’s and Mr. Ryan’s White House dreams dashed, Mr. Boehner resumes the role of the titular head of his party here, and many members realize they have little choice left but to support him.
“He is the de facto negotiator for the party,” said Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, who along with other lawmakers from his state has given Mr. Boehner headaches in the past. “Perhaps I am practicing the grace that comes from watching someone try to do what I myself cannot do.”
The bottom line?
The poll showing Obama’s political strength, Boehner’s more stable position, and the seemingly all encompassing sudden political death of Romney suggest that more than ever a deal can be reached by Obama and Boehner. But Obama’s clout is greater since his support comes from the electorate in general. So if Boehner takes a deep breath and strikes even the beginning of what could become a “Grand Bargain,” the time is now. Six months from now would be too late as Obama’s mojo begins to tatter and Boehner could face more a rebellion from the GOP’s far right obstructionist wing and talk show hosts and pundits who thrive on partisan polarization, not compromise.
FOOTNOTE: In light of his present support from GOPers and Obama’s strength nationally, Boehner might want to ponder some of the lyrics of this Jerry Herman song:
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UPDATE: The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank:
Speaker John Boehner emerged from his weekly huddle with House Republicans on Wednesday morning to take his place behind a mahogany lectern in front of a brown backdrop. The dark tones provided ideal camouflage for the deeply tanned speaker — as though he were trying to vanish into the background.
Who could blame him?
Right now, he is hoping to lead his fractious GOP to an orderly surrender. The question is no longer whether Republicans will give on taxes; they already have. All that remains to be negotiated is how they will increase taxes, and whether they will do it before or after the government reaches the “fiscal cliff.”
“I believe that it’s appropriate to put revenues on the table,” Boehner told reporters. “Now, the revenues we’re putting on the table are going to come from — guess who? — the rich.”
Socialist! Redistributionist! Spreader of wealth!
One of Boehner’s lieutenants, Pete Roskam of Illinois, stepped to the microphones, essentially pleading for the president to show mercy. “President Obama has an unbelievable opportunity to be a transformational president — that is, to bring the country together,” he said. “Or he can devolve into zero-sum-game politics, where he wins and other people lose.”
Those “other people” would be the House Republicans, because it is Obama who seems to be holding all the cards right now. A poll by the Pew Research Center found that 53 percent of Americans would blame Republicans for sending the nation off the cliff and only 27 percent would blame Obama. And Republicans didn’t help their cause by ending their workweek on Wednesday and going home.