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D.C. political spats make future look grim

Mitch McConnell

Mitch McConnell

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Updated: February 5, 2013 6:21AM

‘Magnanimous in victory, gracious in defeat” advises the old saying, but the last election produced little of either as was all too evident in the bitter, drawn-out “fiscal cliff” negotiations.

President Barack Obama demonstrated no magnanimity after the November balloting that swept him into a second term by a comfortable margin and added Democratic members to the Senate and the House. He seemed determined not to learn the lesson of his first two years in office, when he made no effort to hide his disdain for Republicans, reneged on a campaign promise to reach across the aisle and shoved sweeping legislation like ObamaCare and a masssive “stimulus” spending bill down GOP throats. Thus was born the Tea Party uprising that swept Republicans into control of the House in 2010.

After the most recent election, no grace rose from the ranks of Tea Party Republicans, whose credo was no tax compromise with Obama even if it meant tax increases for every American family. Worse, they showed little political common sense, doubling down on a losing hand and in the end rewarding Obama with most of the tax increase he wanted plus no spending cuts and crony-capitalism tax breaks for green energy projects and Hollywood enterainment moguls.

One of the few to try to live up to the precepts of the old saying was House Speaker John Boehner. Recognizing the magnitude of Obama’s victory, Boehner offered to come up with the $800 billion in new revenue Obama had demanded during the campaign. The speaker proposed doing it through reducing or closing tax breaks and loopholes. But Obama slapped away Boehner’s outstretched hand.

“I put $800 billion on the table. What do I get for that?” Boehner asked. “You get nothing. I get that for free,” said Obama. So much for the spirit of compromise.

Rebuffed by the White House, Boehner tried to fashion a Republican alternative, his “Plan B” raising tax rates on people making more than $1 million (actual millionaires as opposed to Obama’s “millionaires,” Americans earning $250,000) combined with spending cuts. But that was unacceptable to the George Custer wing of the House GOP even though anti-tax-hike gladiator Grover Norquist had signed on to it.

With the prospect of an economically devastating tax increase looming, the task of finding a way out of the wilderness fell to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Vice President Joe Biden. McConnell managed to secure a few crumbs — upping the tax rate increase threshold to $450,000 and minimizing change to the estate tax — but in the end it added up to a humiliating defeat for Republicans, who immediately after the election should have acquiesed to the tax increase for top earners and marshaled their forces for later budget battles.

House Republican leaders split over the final miserable deal, reaffirming the public perception of the GOP as the gang that can’t shoot straight. Obama and the Democrats rejoiced in the Republican civil war.

Republicans emerged from the election with a bad hand and played it badly. Obama had the winning hand, but he too played it badly, rubbing GOP noses in their defeat and mocking Republicans when Boehner gave in on Obama’s demand that tax rates must go up.

None of this augurs well for the future, which arrives in less than two months in what looks to be another no-quarter-given battle over raising the nation’s debt ceiling.

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