On Thursday’s broadcast of Fox News Channel’s “Hannity,” syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer criticized President Barack Obama for his ruthlessness in the fiscal cliff negotiations, suggesting his aim is to break House Republicans and not solve the fiscal cliff.
Krauthammer also said the president is not as well-positioned as it seems, nor is the GOP as poorly positioned as some people think.
“I do begrudge what he’s done in this fiscal cliff talks,” Krauthammer said. “It’s been very clear from the beginning that he had no intention to solve the fiscal issues. He’s been using this, and I must say with great skill and ruthless skill and success, to fracture and basically shatter the Republican opposition. The only, you know, redoubt of the opposition is the House. And his objective from the very beginning was to break the will of the Republicans in the House and to create an internal civil war, and he’s done that. How did he do it? By always insisting from day one after the election that Republicans had to raise rates. There’s no reason at all to get the revenue that he needed and that the speaker was offering him that you had to raise rates.”
“Obama himself, as you know, said last July — July 2011 — you can get $1.2 trillion by eliminating loopholes, which is exactly what Republicans offered him,” he continued. “So why did he insist on the rates? He said that is what he will insist upon, and that was the ultimatum. He did that because he knew it would create a crisis among the Republicans, and it did. So right up until now Obama has what he wanted, which was a partisan, political success. He’s been less worried about the fiscal issue for two reasons. Number one, he does not care about debt. He hasn’t in the four years. And number two, he thinks he’s a political winner if we go over the cliff. He thinks he’s holding all the cards.”
Tactically, Krauthammer argued the Republicans should hold out and use Obama’s legacy as a bargaining chip, even as the president seems to be overplaying his hand.
“I have argued from the beginning that Republicans should hold out, that they had more strength than they thought,” he said. “That Obama wasn’t holding all the cards. I think he has the advantage obviously because Republicans in all the policy are the ones who will take the blame. But nonetheless, the larger issue, if you are Obama, is not who is popular and who is not, he’s won his last election. That doesn’t matter anymore. What Obama does care about — should care about and does care about is his legacy. If you go over the cliff he may get a bump temporarily and the Republicans will take a hit, but his legacy will be his second term. And if he wrecks the economy, as he would, by not being able to remedy the consequences of going over the cliff, then he’s going to have a failed second term and a failed — history will remember him as a failed president.”
“Now, what he probably thinks, if he can go over the cliff, the Republicans will take a hit, he will have public opinion behind him,” Krauthammer continued. “And then he can undo the damage one issue at a time by getting a reduction by a return of the majority of the Bush tax rates, standing unemployment, whatever else he wants to do he can get that one piece of legislation at a time so that he won’t suffer the consequence of a second recession of nine percent unemployment. So I think that’s his calculation. But I do think that he’s putting a lot in jeopardy. If we go over the cliff, it’s going to be a very shaky response probably from Wall Street. Consumer confidence is going to be hit. He could be damaged more economically, and the country would, than I think he imagines. So I think he could be overplaying his hand. I think he’s been doing that in terms of the fiscal issue.”
Krauthammer reminded viewers of the debt ceiling, which the country will hit in two months.
“I think the Republicans will surely have a much stronger hand, assuming we go over the cliff, assuming Obama stays very hard line and offers only humiliating conditions, the Republicans resist or do nothing, then we go over the cliff, then I think you are right,” Krauthammer added. “The Republicans have a pretty strong hand because Obama then has to worry about the debt ceiling. Now with bravado he says that’s a game I won’t play. He has to play. He’s the president. He’s responsible for the full faith and credit of the United States. And he’s got Republicans in charge of the House. That’s the will of the people. That’s the result of an election, and they have a mandate as much as he does. He can’t walk away and say I’m not interested in negotiating. He’ll have to. He may not like it, but he’ll have to. That’s where the Republicans I think has the stronger hand. If you don’t cave now and you hang on, the Republicans will be in a position in the next month or two, I think we will really hit the wall on the debt ceiling probably the end of February, beginning of March, and that’s when I think they will have the upper hand, or at least an equal hand.”