WASHINGTON — The deal is finally done.
After the usual hemming and hawing, horse-trading and partisan hysterics, Congress and the White House have an agreement to get the country past the fiscal cliff.
With this latest round of wait-until-the-last-possible-minute negotiations, we thought it made sense to cut through all the spin and give you what you really want: a list of who won and who lost in the cliff fight.
Vice President Joe Biden: Biden’s entrance into the cliff negotiations — after a plea from Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky — seemed to serve as a sort of oiling for locked congressional gears. The media will focus on the idea of Biden as the “closer,” the guy who got the debt ceiling and fiscal cliff deals done for the White House. Couple that with the lead role Biden will play in whatever legislative gun control package the Obama administration presents to Congress this month and the “Biden as major White House asset” story line writes itself. That narrative helps him in the still-way-behind-the-scenes 2016 game, too — although if the fiscal cliff deal is ultimately judged as having given Republicans too much, it has the potential to bite Biden down the line.
Mitch McConnell: The relationship — built over many years — between Biden and the Kentucky Republican is the story of these fiscal cliff negotiations; without it, there’s little chance of any deal. McConnell stayed behind the scenes for nearly the entire fiscal cliff debate, but after House Republicans proved unable to move the needle, he stepped in to save the party. (Make no mistake: No deal on the cliff was a political loser for Republicans; this is an issue they needed to get off the table to find better political ground — debt ceiling — to make their stand.) McConnell proved himself (again) as the “Red” of the Senate — he’s a man who knows how to get things done.
President Barack Obama: It appears that Obama learned the messaging lessons of his past political defeats on issues such as the economic stimulus. From the start, the president used campaign-style tactics to support his arguments for higher taxes on the wealthy, and from the start his pitch was heavy on the stick and light on the carrot when it came to Republican lawmakers. Obama’s statement on the eve of the deal might have crossed the line to a bit of spiking the football, but it was quite clear that he believed he had finally won a message battle with Republicans. That’s because he had.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Va.: Manchin’s proposal — known as the CALM Act — to help gently avert the fiscal cliff got him some positive press amid the broadly negative coverage of Congress. Manchin also emerged as the common-sense centrist of record — the role long played by retiring Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn. — during the fiscal cliff back-and-forth, not a bad place to be for a Democrat representing Republican-friendly West Virginia.
Debt ceiling: Obama’s initial proposal to take from Congress the power to raise the debt ceiling disappeared amid the negotiations over a cliff deal. That means in late February or early March, there will be another fight over whether to raise the nation’s borrowing limit. And it’s likely to make the fiscal cliff fight look like child’s play.
Legislative jargon: AMT. Chained CPI. UI benefits. This cliff debate was an embarrassment of riches for lovers of congressional-ese. C-SPAN was in its glory.
Speaker John Boehner: The fiscal cliff talks were cast as a moment for the Ohio Republican to cement his legacy as House speaker by using his years of legislative know-how to find a “grand bargain” that would set the country on the right fiscal course. The exact opposite happened. When Boehner’s “Plan B” failed to make it even to the House floor for a vote, he was effectively sidelined from the talks and faced more questions about how much — if any — control he had over the House Republican conference. Boehner is a lock to be re-elected speaker Thursday, but his image took a big hit in the cliff negotiations.
Congress: Members of Congress proved that all the bad things people say about them are basically true: They do wait until the last minute to do things. They are incapable of getting anything big done. Their idea of compromise is agreeing on a future date when they will make the hard decisions.
Obama: Obama’s handling of the fiscal cliff talks seemed pitch perfect until his Monday event with “middle class” citizens. The gathering was too much like a campaign rally — Obama was repeatedly cheered — and the president was in a joking mood that didn’t seem to fit the moment.