Obama's Statement: Setting the Terms of Debate

Obama would never have been this bold in his first term. The terms of debate are clear.

Obama just finished his remarks on the fiscal cliff, and he was direct and no-nonsense. Yes, I want to work with the other side, blah blah. But let's pass the middle-class tax cuts now. The Senate has passed a bill already protecting incomes under $250,000 from higher rates. The House just needs to do the same. I have a pen, and I'm ready to sign it [brandishes pen, even!].

The 2009 Obama would not have been that direct and confident. Not even the 2011 Obama. This is new. He's saying, "I am the president, I won. Deal with it, and deal with me." Too often in his first term, he let the Republicans set the basic terms of debate. Not this time. He just set them.

Now, Boehner and McConnell have to come back and explain why they're going to block a bill that would keep rates lower for 98 percent of taxpayers in order to protect the 2 percent. They'll carry on about job creators. That's a losing argument--I mean, it is precisely the argument that just got thumped in the election.

They may stand pat on it, but their standing will drop badly. Remember, 60 percent in exit polls said they back higher taxes on dollars above $250,000 (within that, 13 percent even supported higher taxes for everyone). Obama got just under 51 percent of the vote. That means that raising these taxes had the support of a few million Romney voters. Think about that.

To conservatives who will say below that Obama didn't offer anything, au contraire, he certainly did. He basically said, everything else is negotiable, just agree to this one thing. So the question before us is now clear: Are the Republicans going to hold up tax relief for everyone to protect the rich?