Fiscal cliff: What would Mrs Lincoln say to John Boehner?

  • 3 December 2012
  • From the section US & Canada
  • comments
US President Barack Obama visits a toy maker in Hatfield, Pennsylvania 30 November 2012 Image copyright AP
Image caption Barack Obama has said he would not accept any deal that extends tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans

The Republicans' rather huffy letter to US President Barack Obama made me think of a glorious moment in Stephen Spielberg's Lincoln.

The letter, signed by House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, among others, says there has been a "status quo" election "in which both you and the Republican majority in the House were re-elected".

They are claiming that this means the American people expect both the victors of the recent election to "come together on a fair middle ground".

It is reasonable to assume the White House see things rather more like Mrs Lincoln.

Her moment occurs at a White House reception when the president's wife holds up a long reception line to give Thaddeus Stephens, a Republican leader in the House of Representatives, an almighty ear-bashing.

I cannot remember the exact words, but the gist of it is: "My husband is loved by the people, known to the people, he's just been re-elected, and you are nobody - now just back off."

'Unrealistic'

Mr Obama is betting that most Americans will feel the re-election of the president carries more moral weight than the re-election of the House.

He has been on Twitter repeating his demand for tax rises for the rich, opposition to deep cuts in education budgets, and so on.

Everything he has done has been about political positioning, not serious negotiating.

That has further outraged the prickly Republicans, who write of their shock that when Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner went to see them he proposed a plan that was in their view "neither balanced nor realistic".

So, they have countered by backing a plan - already passed by the House - to cut healthcare for the future elderly and food stamps for the poor.

They demand a response and serious negotiation. Mr Obama, a more aggressive president than in his first term, is manoeuvring them where he wants them, by getting under their skin.

He is claiming the public label of the man who wants tax cuts for everybody, forcing them to champion deep spending cuts. This is not yet about doing a deal - it is about defining how a deal is seen, when it is done.