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Published on November 21st, 2012 | by Iain Waterman
Image © [caption id="attachment_11424" align="alignnone" width="566"] President Barack Obama prepares to putt while playing golf at Farm Neck Golf Club, in Oak Bluffs, Mass., on the island of Martha's Vineyard, Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)[/caption] ‘The fiscal cliff’, that ominous sounding term that I’m sure you’ve heard of by now. Ominous it is indeed; even moderate suggestions are that the ‘toxic’ $600bn combination of tax increases and spending cuts intended to stabilise the growing deficit could shrink the economy by 3-5%. President Obama would be forced to cut the debt in one year by as much George Osborne is doing in three or more. The cliff comes into automatic effect in the new year unless a deal can be squeezed through a gridlocked political system. Due to re-election, the Democrats will believe they have a mandate for their economic plan. Obama declared that higher taxes were a “central question” of the election and that his victory showed “that the majority of Americans agree with my approach”. Unsurprisingly, some Republican candidates have already re-opened their stalls: The party Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said there “was no truth whatsoever” in the notion that Republicans were going to “roll over” to Democrat demands. Realistic individuals on both sides recognise however that both spending cuts and tax increases will be needed as part of a deficit reduction deal. For all his talk in 2008 of injecting new bipartisan cooperation into Washington, the President was disappointingly uncommunicative during his first term. Famously, he has played over 100 games of golf whilst in the White House, and only one of these, his 100th round, was with a Republican – the house speaker John Boehner. He hasn’t been helped by his policies, many of which are anathema to the right, though we cannot blame him for this. On the other hand, he rejected the recommendations of the Bowles-Simpson commission (a bipartisan body that he set up) to close the budget deficit and this has not won him plaudits. In his second term Obama’s legacy will be decided – does he use his election victory as a mandate to force through a Democrat agenda, or work with the right to ensure a balanced approach? An interesting piece in the FT made a bold suggestion that the President can force the Republicans to bend by utilising the same grassroots campaign machine that helped get him re-elected. This campaign machine, which stimulated a groundswell of support by utilising an army of volunteers, local campaign centres and social media, is unique to Barack Obama. “The reason why those people got involved was because they believed in Obama. It was a relationship between them and our candidate” said David Plouffe, a senior White House advisor.  The FT suggested that the President could keep support for his policies energised by keeping the machine rolling, thus allowing him to “shape his legacy… in the way he wants, and not in a way dictated by his opponents.” Most commentators agree however that Obama needs to build some bridges with the Republicans, and fast. He may be able to have more success in a second term simply because Republicans know that they will be rid of him in four years anyway. The fiscal cliff, moreover, should give both sides a more urgent need to compromise. He should go further than this however. The President should begin by playing some more rounds of golf with the Republicans. He could start by inviting back John Boehner, who said recently that his party had to be open to “additional revenues via tax reform” – as close as a Republican is likely to come to admitting that some taxes do need to be raised. The President must also resist the demands of some in his party to use re-election as a mandate for a hard-nosed approach. He should endorse the proposals of the Bowles-Simpson commission, which will set a clear blueprint for reducing the national debt.  This will include curtailing some government spending such as unemployment support and the benefits provided under Obamacare. Doing this will go some way to showing Republicans that he is willing to come to a cross-party compromise. A more recent bipartisan report from the Congressional Budget Office has found that closing the deficit simply by reducing spending would mean curtailing budgets in key departments such as education and transport by as much as 40%. In other words, taxes need to go up. The President should endorse this and any other bipartisan findings that argue for a balanced approach to reducing the debt; by taking the first steps he will then show he is genuine about reaching a deal. Barack Obama campaigned on a pledge to unite America and change party politics – he can still leave this legacy but only if he is willing to engage with a Republican party and meet on some of their terms. A golf course could be the perfect neutral ground.

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The fate of Obama’s second term could be decided on the golf course

President Barack Obama prepares to putt while playing golf at Farm Neck Golf Club, in Oak Bluffs, Mass., on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

‘The fiscal cliff’, that ominous sounding term that I’m sure you’ve heard of by now. Ominous it is indeed; even moderate suggestions are that the ‘toxic’ $600bn combination of tax increases and spending cuts intended to stabilise the growing deficit could shrink the economy by 3-5%. President Obama would be forced to cut the debt in one year by as much George Osborne is doing in three or more. The cliff comes into automatic effect in the new year unless a deal can be squeezed through a gridlocked political system.

Due to re-election, the Democrats will believe they have a mandate for their economic plan. Obama declared that higher taxes were a “central question” of the election and that his victory showed “that the majority of Americans agree with my approach”. Unsurprisingly, some Republican candidates have already re-opened their stalls: The party Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said there “was no truth whatsoever” in the notion that Republicans were going to “roll over” to Democrat demands. Realistic individuals on both sides recognise however that both spending cuts and tax increases will be needed as part of a deficit reduction deal.

For all his talk in 2008 of injecting new bipartisan cooperation into Washington, the President was disappointingly uncommunicative during his first term. Famously, he has played over 100 games of golf whilst in the White House, and only one of these, his 100th round, was with a Republican – the house speaker John Boehner. He hasn’t been helped by his policies, many of which are anathema to the right, though we cannot blame him for this. On the other hand, he rejected the recommendations of the Bowles-Simpson commission (a bipartisan body that he set up) to close the budget deficit and this has not won him plaudits. In his second term Obama’s legacy will be decided – does he use his election victory as a mandate to force through a Democrat agenda, or work with the right to ensure a balanced approach?

An interesting piece in the FT made a bold suggestion that the President can force the Republicans to bend by utilising the same grassroots campaign machine that helped get him re-elected. This campaign machine, which stimulated a groundswell of support by utilising an army of volunteers, local campaign centres and social media, is unique to Barack Obama. “The reason why those people got involved was because they believed in Obama. It was a relationship between them and our candidate” said David Plouffe, a senior White House advisor.  The FT suggested that the President could keep support for his policies energised by keeping the machine rolling, thus allowing him to “shape his legacy… in the way he wants, and not in a way dictated by his opponents.”

Most commentators agree however that Obama needs to build some bridges with the Republicans, and fast. He may be able to have more success in a second term simply because Republicans know that they will be rid of him in four years anyway. The fiscal cliff, moreover, should give both sides a more urgent need to compromise. He should go further than this however.

The President should begin by playing some more rounds of golf with the Republicans. He could start by inviting back John Boehner, who said recently that his party had to be open to “additional revenues via tax reform” – as close as a Republican is likely to come to admitting that some taxes do need to be raised. The President must also resist the demands of some in his party to use re-election as a mandate for a hard-nosed approach.

He should endorse the proposals of the Bowles-Simpson commission, which will set a clear blueprint for reducing the national debt.  This will include curtailing some government spending such as unemployment support and the benefits provided under Obamacare. Doing this will go some way to showing Republicans that he is willing to come to a cross-party compromise.

A more recent bipartisan report from the Congressional Budget Office has found that closing the deficit simply by reducing spending would mean curtailing budgets in key departments such as education and transport by as much as 40%. In other words, taxes need to go up. The President should endorse this and any other bipartisan findings that argue for a balanced approach to reducing the debt; by taking the first steps he will then show he is genuine about reaching a deal. Barack Obama campaigned on a pledge to unite America and change party politics – he can still leave this legacy but only if he is willing to engage with a Republican party and meet on some of their terms. A golf course could be the perfect neutral ground.

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About the Author

Iain Waterman

Iain recently graduated from the University of Leeds in History and worked at Dods Political Communications (www.politicshome.com) and The Times newspaper before Catch21. He began writing about politics whilst in his final undergraduate year and founded a blog that he still edits today (http://cromerterrace.wordpress.com/). His primary focus is British domestic politics but he is also very interested in American and Russian politics, as well as the broader themes of international relations, development and social progress. Iain supports a range of policies from across the three main British parties and therefore does not consider himself to be aligned to an ideology, instead he believes that a pragmatic, evidence based approach is most essential to good government.



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