While recent polls show that most Americans would blame Republicans if no agreement is reached to avoid the "fiscal cliff," veteran Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward believes that President Barack Obama has the most to lose if the nation goes over the cliff. Obama would be held accountable for the poor economy that would ensue in that scenario, Woodward claimed Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Going over the fiscal cliff "would be a giant disaster," Woodward said. Obama "needs to improve things and show that he's a leader."
Woodward wrote a book earlier this year accusing Obama of failed leadership during the debt ceiling negotiations that led, in part, to the fiscal cliff.
During those negotiations in the Summer of 2011, Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner were close to negotiating a "grand bargain" on deficit reduction that would have both increased revenue through tax reform and cut spending through entitlement reform. After agreeing in principle to the deal, Woodword wrote, Obama went back to Boehner and asked for more revenue than they had already agreed to.
Obama's incompetence was due, in part, Woodward believes, to his inability to work well with Congress. Obama even showed a lack of interest in building relationships with members of Congress, which Woodward believes is essential to effective presidential leadership.
The current negotiations over averting the fiscal cliff are similar to those negotiations in the Summer of 2011.
"It really is down to Obama and Boehner at the table," Woodward said.
Woodward also said that White House and Boehner staffers have now met five times to work on a compromise plan.
A Pew Research Center/Washington Post poll released last week shows that most Americans, 53 percent, believe that Republicans would be most to blame if an agreement is not reached, slightly higher than the 45 percent who said two weeks ago that Republicans would be mostly to blame in a CNN/ORC poll.
Helene Cooper, national correspondent for The New York Times, claimed, though, that the White House is "so much cockier right now" than they were in the Summer of 2011 negotiations. The White House is "not going to negotiate," Cooper added, but believes it is up to Republicans to "come to us, we're not going to negotiate against ourselves, we're not going to keep putting out more proposals."
Liberal MSNBC pundit Lawrence O'Donnell and former speaker of the House and Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich both agreed that Obama and the Democrats have more to gain from going over the fiscal cliff than Republicans.
"The president and the Democrats like more what would happen on January 1st than the Republicans," O'Donnell said.
The greatest leverage that Republicans may have, therefore, is Obama's desire to avoid a recession caused by the fiscal cliff that would taint his second term.
The Congressional Budget Office has said that the fiscal cliff will likely cause a recession, but simply abolishing the tax increases and spending cuts that comprise the fiscal cliff would cause even greater problems long term because the national debt, now over $16.3 trillion, would become unsustainable. One way to both avoid the fiscal cliff and deal with the long term debt problem is a "grand bargain" that would both reduce the growth rate of entitlement spending and tax reform that could increase revenue without further damaging a fragile economy.