It’s Day 27 of the fiscal cliff hostage situation. Republicans made a counteroffer to the president’s intentionally offensive opening gambit, outlining $600 billion in cuts to entitlements and spending and $800 billion in revenues—to be raised without raising tax rates.
The president responded by doing what so many bored people in D.C. do to while their way through the long hours of the workday afternoon: he took to Twitter. The irony? The president’s mid-day announcement that he would take fiscal cliff questions at 2 p.m., using the hashtag #my2k, was only the third most interesting thing to happen Twitter that day. First, the pope signed on, choosing as his handle @pontifex Then, news broke that Kate Middleton was pregnant with what may be a British monarch 60 years hence.
With only 28 days left until a perfect storm of tax increases and spending cuts hits the economy, why is the President spending his afternoon on Twitter? Any deal to avert the fiscal cliff will be an inside job. If it happens, it will have to come down to a deal made between Obama and House Speaker John Boehner. But the two of them aren’t meeting regularly. And so the president has taken to playing an outside game. Last Friday, he took a campaign-style trip to Pennsylvania to discuss taxes. On Sunday, he dispatched Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to the talk shows to speak aggressively. The White House is trying to push the country into pressuring Republicans to compromise—or to soften public opinion in the event that we do, in fact, go over the cliff.
The Twitter press conference was essentially partisan warfare by other means. Before it started, House Majority leader Eric Cantor played his usual role of being a non-constructive jerk: “Mr. President, time to get serious. Let’s protect small businesses and families from a harmful increase in tax rates and cut spending,” he tweeted from his handle, @GOPLeader. Note that Cantor’s tweet was not, in fact, a question. It was a statement. And it highlighted the general Republican modus operandi throughout these budget talks: don’t show any sign of actual engagement, just grandstand and repeat talking points.
For much of 2012, the institutional right believed it could overwhelm the president’s popularity and incumbency through the relentless application of third-party money. That didn’t work out too well for the Romney campaign. But they haven’t given up. The Heritage Foundation, the right-wing think tank, earlier in the day deployed some of its donors’ capital to buy up the designated #my2K hashtag so that it could use it to promote its own tweets. And so when people logged on, the top of their feed would contain tweets like this one, from @Heritage:
The Twitter conference started a few minutes late:
hey guys - this is barack.ready to answer your questions on fiscal cliff & #my2k.Let's get started. -bo— The White House (@whitehouse) December 3, 2012
And naturally it invited the world’s wags to chime in. (@texashedge: Have you considered calling it the “Fiskal Kliff” to make it more hip? #my2k) Meanwhile, groups and people whose agendas have nothing or little to do with budgets and tax rates piggy-backed on the publicity. (@peat: Congress & @WhiteHouse: Save taxpayers $15 billion by cutting wasteful & cruel animals tests#My2K #FiscalCliff http://peta.vg/3u)
The Twitter chat was in fact, like the tax and budget debates we’ve seen recently. The White House was essentially talking to itself. The great thing about doing Q&A on Twitter is that you can pick the questions you like and then give the answers. Example: @dontbeaprat, a college student with purple hair and without a full-time a job, asked how the proposed budget cuts would hurt her. Obama responded:
.@dontbeaprat cuts w/out revenue = reductions in student loans; work/study & college tax credits expire. Bad for growth. like your hair! -bo— The White House (@whitehouse) December 3, 2012
He used questions to highlight the fact that he had already signed on to big spending cuts, that simply doing away with deductions for the top two percent wouldn’t raise enough revenue, and that he was willing to compromise. He also took a question about the Chicago bears.
All in all, it was about as enlightening and informative than your usual presidential press conference. (The questions were generally better and more concise, though.) And it should best be viewed as part of the continuing outside game. Talks are continuing. And this is a way for the president to look like he’s doing something about the fiscal cliff without actually doing anything.
Day 27 of the fiscal cliff hostage situation can thus be summed up in the following 140 characters: Pols keep talking past each other. No visible substantive progress. Cliff approaching in 28 days. OMG we are totally screwed! #fiscalcliff
By the way: when he signed off on his Tweet with “-bo,” was I the only who thought that maybe it was actually Bo the White House dog who was tweeting?