John Boehner came to his meeting with the White House today with a plan to handle the so-called fiscal cliff. The plan, circulated by Boehner’s staff, involves securing a general agreement on revenue and spending levels, turning off the trigger on the automatic deficit reduction starting January 1, and then working out the details later.
Whether this plan will result in a deal, and whether the deal would be good or bad, depends entirely on the details. In principle, there’s nothing wrong with delaying the decision. With unemployment still nearly 8 percent and interest rates at please-take-our-money levels, there’s no reason to implement deficit reduction right away. The logic of a decision is political. If Obama agrees to delay the tax-cut expiration and the automatic defense spending cuts without putting something else into place, he’ll never be able to force Republicans to compromise.
So lots of big questions remain. Can the two sides agree on a target? And can they reach an acceptable enforcement mechanism? The second question is fairly key. The automatic cuts scheduled for January are already a triggering mechanism. The trouble is, it’s so harsh neither side wants it. What they probably need is a kind of roughed-out enforcement that both sides could live with, while still having a chance to work on some more elegant solution — some combination of tax increases and spending cuts.
Whether they can get this deal done remains to be seen. But the news of the day is that Boehner has showed his hand: He really does want to strike an agreement before January.