“It will be a last-minute, stop gap measure, an agreement that is watered down for both sides and they’ll have to go back to negotiations again later,” said Dr. Robert Sanders, political science professor at University of West Georgia.
President Barack Obama and congressional members are due to return to Washington from Christmas vacation today to renew fiscal cliff negotiations. Obama is expected to seek out trusted Democratic ally, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, to help craft a quick deal.
Sanders blames the lack of action so far on partisanship bickering that is unlike the 1980s, when Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neill and Republican President Ronald Reagan could sit down together and work out an agreement from divergent views.
“As far as Speaker (John) Boehner is concerned, he has a desire to make it appear he’s standing up to the president and is not giving up his ideals,” Sanders said. “There’s lots of pressure from interest groups and the extreme group of the party, so he wants to make it look like he’s a strong wall against the president.”
On the other hand, Sanders believes Obama feels he has public opinion on his side, with the momentum of a decisive Electoral College victory and the backing of new senators coming to power.
“He thinks this is the policy that people want and he’s going to stand firm with that,” he said.
Sanders calls the current Washington climate “the most intense lack of cooperation between the parties” in many years, reflecting back to the days of federalists versus non-federalists.
“Democrats are more and more liberal and Republicans are more and more conservative,” he said. “They’re not only not working with each other, they don’t even socialize with each other. There’s more gridlock than ever and that’s why we’re so close to the fiscal cliff. Both sides want to show strength to their constituents.”
While the two parties don’t want to work together, it’s not nearly as antagonistic as in the period preceding the Civil War, when fist fights and duels occurred.
“Congress has a set of courtesies now,” Sanders said. “Back then, it was a rougher time and the issue was so volatile. You won’t see that on the floor. The guy who yelled ‘liar’ recently was chastised. There’s protocols and norms expected now in Congress.”
Sanders said the GOP has moved more to the right due to tea party conservatives pushing out a lot of Republican moderates.
“They win in the primaries, but they lose in the elections,” he said. “The Republicans have lost at least a dozen moderates who used to reach across the aisle.”
He said some GOP moderates have resigned over frustration with the gridlock.
But Sanders believes the country can still survive, even if it goes over the fiscal cliff.
“Wall Street will have to continue to have faith and people will have to reduce their spending habits and live with it,” he said.