THE BLOG

The Fiscal Cliff: Obama's Opportunity for Leadership

11/19/2012 01:02 pm ET | Updated Jan 19, 2013

President Obama's re-election provides him a great opportunity. Not worried about the next election, the president can focus on his legacy and getting an agenda through that will cement it. He can take the momentum generated by his re-election to get a progressive legislation passed that reflects his beliefs and those of the people that voted for him.

While bipartisanship is a worthy goal, the president learned in his first term that it doesn't work if the other party is not also feeling bipartisan. Despite what Romney and Ryan said, President Obama spent the early part of his presidency trying to make bipartisan deals but was firmly rejected by a Republican Party firmly tied to the hard line and more interested in defeating him for re-election than getting things don. The president can shape the agenda and this president should. The current crisis with the fiscal cliff is his first opportunity to do so. First off he should make sure the problem is solved by New Year's and not just pushed down the line through temporary measures to be resolved in the future.

Second, the president should remain true to his principles. He campaigned and won on raising tax rates for upper-income Americans and he should stick to this pledge. It is the only equitable, practical and fair way to reduce the deficit. A president that sticks to his principles is a leader and can get others, including his opponents, to follow. George Bush was able to get Democrats to follow him down the road to war with Iraq by taking control of manipulating the debate on the issue so that his opponents had no choice but to follow him. Anyone who opposed him, like Senator Max Cleland on Homeland Security, was branded unpatriotic and a sympathetic media did the president's bidding. Other presidents from Clinton to Nixon to Reagan have been able to rally the country behind them by showing leadership.

Thus far, the president is showing the necessary leadership. His public pronouncements to stick to his tax plan as well as his assurances to labor, are all good signs. He has been definitive that he wants to keep the Bush tax cuts for all but the highest-income Americans. Now he needs to frame the message so that there is no way the Republicans can keep their hard line against raising any tax rates. One way is to continue to be clear that he will keep lower taxes for most of us. He must make sure America knows that a bill continuing the Bush tax cut for 98 percent of Americans can be on his desk at any time and he will sign it. Only Republican obstructionism is stopping this from happening. The responsibility must be clearly on the Republicans for leading us over the cliff.

A possible compromise is to raise rates for upper-income Americans to a rate below those of the Clinton years but higher than today -- coupled with closing selected loopholes, this could bring the needed revenue. But how willing are Republicans to compromise? Despite their rhetoric, this may be the opportunity for them to do so. The next Congress will be more liberal than the current one. Scott Brown has been traded for Elizabeth Warren and Wisconsin may like Scott Walker but they also elected Tammy Baldwin to the Senate. Other new progressive voices will be coming to Washington as the Democratic Majority in the Senate increased, the Republican Majority in the House decreased. It is clear that the heady days for the Tea Party are over. The pressure to march to their message has decreased. Therefore, after January Republicans will find it harder to get a budget deal more to their liking. We can only hope that they will see the light and get off their hard line to pass a budget deal that is fair for all Americans.