If we go over the edge at year's end, Republicans have themselves to blame, not Obama.
(The Root) -- If the nation plunges over the fiscal cliff at year's end, President Barack Obama won't take the fall. The blame will lie at the feet of congressional Republicans.
After four years of sheer obstructionism -- behavior that was called out during the presidential campaign season -- most Americans are pointedly aware of who is willing to further wreck the nation's economy and who would like to rescue it.
Fifty-three percent of the nation believes that if a fiscal agreement isn't reached by New Year's Eve, Republicans in Congress are the ones to blame, reports a new Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll. It also reports that only 38 percent believe that the president and the Republican Congress will reach a deal.
If those pessimists are right, then in an effort to assure a long-term deficit reduction, a series of mandatory and draconian spending cuts will jump off in less than seven weeks, coupled with the expiration of a slew of tax cuts.
Should the president's disloyal opposition insist on continuing their budget blocking to protect the richest Americans from having to bear the burden of a puny 4 percent tax increase on any earnings over a quarter of a million annually, all the rest of us will suffer.
Just the threat of the so-called fiscal cliff is already hurting the stock market, which has plunged more than 400 points in the past week. Should it happen, the fall will also hurt the middle class, burdening it with two-thirds of the tax increases, forcing families to pay about $2,000 more a year in taxes. It will hurt folks who get unemployment assistance. It will hurt doctors who accept Medicare. It will hurt college students. It will hurt defense contractors.
It will devastate the already hurting black middle class and black working poor.
Our slowly declining unemployment rate would squeal quickly into reversal. As many as 3.4 million jobs would be lost, forcing us back into a recession, hiking the unemployment rate to 9.1 percent from the current 7.9 percent.
Overall, the cost of next year's fiscal cliff-hanger could total nearly $700 billion if nothing is done, estimates the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. So, to no one's surprise, the urgency is fierce.
The president is meeting, summiting and promising to take his show on the road. He met with labor and liberal leaders Tuesday. He met with CEOs Wednesday. Friday President Obama will hold a summit with key congressional Republicans and Democrats. If gridlock revisits, the president says he'll abandon Washington and take his case to the people. In an effort to deflect blame, Paul Ryan and other Republicans on the Hill are taking to television and radio airwaves, attempting to explain how they would put the nation's fiscal house back in order.
The one thing they won't be explaining is how they caused the crisis in the first place. They won't be explaining how voting for the Bush administration's two wars, which were never on the budget books, contributed to the deficit. They won't be reminding the nation how they held the debt ceiling hostage last year, which ultimately paved the road to the cliff we're now trying to avoid.
The Republican leaders will try to avoid mentioning their anti-tax pledge to Grover Norquist and his lobbying group, Americans for Tax Reform, since their slavish allegiance to him has also contributed to our fiscal crisis. Instead, they will grant that higher taxes may be necessary -- under their conditions. Then they will call for tax reforms, getting rid of tax loopholes and eliminating fraud and waste. Anything but raising taxes on the rich.
In winning last week's presidential election, Barack Obama won more than just an extended stay at the White House. He also won the upper hand in determining which segments of the federal budget get the money and which ones get the shaft.
While everyone agrees that elections have consequences, there is partisan disagreement on whether the president has a mandate. Democrats say that he does, noting that the president campaigned on increasing the taxes on annual incomes of $250,000 or more, and that the voters affirmed his position with an Electoral College landslide. Republicans say there is no Obama mandate, arguing that the president only defeated Mitt Romney by a few million votes and that the race was close in the all-important swing states.
No matter what, the Republicans now look like Wile E. Coyote in a Road Runner cartoon. If they allow the nation to go over the fiscal cliff, they'll get the blame. If they cave before the calamity occurs, the president will get the praise.
The signs of the times are already posted for all to see. Last week, Californians voted to raise the state's sales and income taxes to rescue its flailing education system. No more Mr. Fall Guy, President Obama has signaled his resolve to slay the Republicans' gilded lamb by calling for a $1.6 trillion tax hike for the richest Americans. And that tired old meme about raising taxes on the "job creators" is beginning to not even ring true inside the right-wing echo chamber.
If you recall, the wealthy paid 39 percent taxes during the Clinton era. No jobs were killed. The economy was alive and booming.
"It won't kill the country," said conservative thought leader Bill Kristol Sunday on Fox News, "if Republicans raise taxes a little bit on millionaires."
Cybercolumnist Monroe Anderson is a veteran Chicago journalist who has written signed op-ed-page columns for both the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times and executive-produced and hosted his own local CBS TV show. He was also the editor of Savoy Magazine. Follow him on Twitter.