By Francis Wilkinson
The demise of the supercommittee may have suited everyone's interests. At least everyone who works in Washington. With high unemployment and a sour mood in the electorate, Republicans are hopeful they can win the White House and Congress next year, at which point they would be free to renew the Bush tax cuts and seek deficit reduction, to the extent they do so at all, largely at the expense of Democratic constituencies. It's hardly shocking that they might prefer to remake the federal budget alone rather than with Democrats.
President Obama may also quietly appreciate the committee's collapse. The future of federal taxing and spending depends on the resolution of the Bush tax cuts, a fiscal high-wire act worth $3.7 trillion over ten years. As long as the fate of the Bush tax cuts is unresolved, they will occupy a central place in the 2012 campaign.
That could help Obama. Having presided over a grim economy, the President isn't eager to dwell on the past. Anything that projects the campaign fight into the future -- and the Bush tax cuts don't expire until the last day of 2012, after the election -- smells like opportunity to the Obama campaign. The fact that Obama's position on the tax cuts is shared by a solid majority of voters doesn't hurt. He supports extending them for families earning less than $250,000 a year and eliminating them for high earners.
It's possible that a Supreme Court ruling on health care reform in the middle of the campaign could provide a similar service to the Democrat -- even if the ruling goes against the Obama administration. If the Court rules reform unconstitutional, it will be a terrible blow to Democratic policy. But then the question turns to what will replace it. Republicans haven't had much to say on that front, in part because they have no remedy for addressing the uninsured or pre-existing conditions. Any Supreme Court decision will thrust health care onto center stage in the presidential campaign. As things stand now, with unemployment at 9 percent, every day the campaign is focused on something other than a sputtering economy is probably a good day for Obama.
(Francis Wilkinson is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board.)-0- Nov/23/2011 15:51 GMT