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President Takes Winner-Takes-All Approach to Dealing with Fiscal Cliff

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As the United States finds itself within days of the so-called “fiscal cliff,” extremely divergent narratives are being spun about the willingness of President Obama to make necessary compromises to forge a plan acceptable to both sides of the political aisle.

The New York Times recently ran an editorial in which it painted a picture of a president who in his first term made numerous concerted attempts to work with Republicans but was stonewalled at every turn.

According to the Times, “In his first four years in office, Mr. Obama has repeatedly offered what he considered compromises on stimulus spending, health care and deficit reduction to Republicans, who either rejected them as inadequate or pocketed them and insisted on more.”

According to this version of happenings on the Hill, the president is determined this time around to play hard ball for “the good of the American people.”

Mr. Obama, scarred by failed negotiations in his first term and emboldened by a clear if close election to a second, has emerged as a different kind of negotiator in the past week or two, sticking to the liberal line and frustrating Republicans on the other side of the bargaining table.

Disciplined and unyielding, he argues for raising taxes on the wealthy while offering nothing new to rein in spending and overhaul entitlement programs beyond what was on the table last year. Until Republicans offer their own new plan, Mr. Obama will not alter his. In effect, he is trying to leverage what he claims as an election mandate to force Republicans to take ownership of the difficult choices ahead. – Peter Baker NYT

“I’m puzzled why Republicans are locking into a principle that’s not sustainable and why Democrats aren’t taking the moment to put forward their own vision of entitlement reform,” said Peter R. Orszag, a former White House budget director for Mr. Obama.

Mr. Orszag’s former White House colleagues said they had grown weary of making unilateral concessions only to see Republicans moving the goal posts, as they see it. “The president is not going to negotiate with himself,” said Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director. “He’s laid out his position, and Republicans have to come to the table.”

But Bob Woodward, in his book The Price of Politics, paints a far different picture. According to Woodward, then-Minority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) visited the White House just three days after his inauguration with a list of five specific tax cuts that Republicans were prepared to support as part of a stimulus package.

The president categorically rejected every one of Cantor’s compromise offers. “I can go it alone,” Obama told Cantor.” Look at the polls. The polls are pretty good for me right now. Elections have consequences. And Eric, I won.” Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, was even more frank: “We have the votes. F–k ‘em.”

Woodward, no conservative, notes there is nothing new about the president and his staff’s current non-negotiating tactics. They are the exact same today as they were when he was first elected. He expects to get everything he wants and is not willing to make any concessions to Republicans.

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