President Obama strolled confidently into the White House Briefing Room late on New Year’s Day despite looking weary and sporting a tad more gray hairs. Speaking on what some are calling a victory for the president, he thanked both parties for delivering on the fiscal deal passed with a bipartisan vote in both the House and the Senate, after long, bitter haggling.
"Thanks to the votes of Republicans and Democrats in Congress, I will sign a law that raises taxes on the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans while preventing tax hikes that could have sent the economy back into recession," said the president.
Flanked by a smiling Vice President Biden--who was instrumental, along with Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, in brokering the final deal--Obama also touched on the debt ceiling, offering a stern warning and putting Congress on notice that he will not accept any such partisan posturing seen in the fiscal cliff negotiations.
Though the president and fellow Democrats did not get their original tax increase for those making over $250,000, they did get the staunchly anti-tax, pledge signing Republicans to agree to increase taxes for upward of those making $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for couples.
The bill will also extend unemployment benefits for roughly 2 million Americans, prevent a 27 percent cut in fees for doctors treating Medicare patients, stop the automatic $900 pay increase for Congress due in March and prevent a huge jump in the price of milk. In addition, $24 billion in across-the-board spending cuts will be halted for the next two months.
However, ordinary Americans will lose 2 percent in payroll taxes and their 401Ks, for neither party made any attempts to fight to re-instate that temporary cut which expired at the end of 2012.
The final vote was not without sharp division within the GOP. A mini-revolt almost took place, splitting the leaders of the party. House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia and the party's whip, California Rep. Kevin McCarthy, voted against the bill while House Speaker John Boehner voted in favor.
Speakers don't usually vote, so I have a feeling Boehner was symbolically showing his party that he was still in charge. Or maybe, he was stacking up political capital by showing that Republicans can compromise, which would be in keeping with the rebranding of the party. Some, like Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, have talked about changes to the party's image post-Mitt Romney's presidential loss and his subsequent talk of Obama's gift-giving to voters.
Jindal had slammed Romney for blaming his loss on gift-giving, calling for a party with a different message. Others are starting to talk like Jindal, even Newt Gingrich. The GOP realize that if they do not make some drastic changes to look and sound inclusive, the minority vote –namely blacks, Latinos and women–would continue to gravitate toward the Democratic party.
But only time will tell if the rebranding is not simply repackaging without the substantive, core changes within the GOP.
Click here to read my earlier reports on the fiscal cliff negotiations.