Plouffe: Fiscal Cliff negotiations are 'going to get hairy'

I suppose that's Washington shorthand for "I don't see this happening":


Obama senior adviser David Plouffe predicted that the fiscal cliff negotiations are "going to get hairy" in the coming weeks, saying President Barack Obama is committed to achieving the elusive "big deal" on taxes and spending he and Speaker of the House John Boehner have tried to strike for more than 18 months.

In post-election remarks at the University of Delaware, Plouffe warned of "paralysis" if both parties remain beholden to their base, saying Obama is looking for a deal that sets the country on the right fiscal path for a 10- to 20-year period.

"The only way that gets done is for Republicans again to step back and get mercilessly criticized by Grover Norquist and the Right, and it means that Democrats are going to have to do some tough things on spending and entitlements that means that they'll criticized on by their left," Plouffe said at his alma mater in conversation with former McCain campaign manager Steve Schmidt.

The senior White House adviser repeated Obama's opposition to extending the Bush tax cuts on those earning more than $250,000 a year, but expressed openness to a tax reform deal that could potentially lower what the wealthy pay.

"What we also want to do is engage in a process of tax reform that would ultimately produce lower rates, even potentially for the wealthiest," he said, referring to benefits from corporate tax reform.

Plouffe sounds almost reasonable. The problem is one of time. Five weeks is not enough time to hammer out a deal on spending, taxes, and entitlements - at least a deal that would be acceptable to a majority of both chambers.

Every step of the way toward a "Grand Bargain" will be through a minefield where one wrong move could blow up the entire process. I doubt seriously that either side can avoid enraging their base which means for this to work, many members are going to have to pay a political price if a deal is to be reached. Grover Norquist is already talking about primarying Republicans who break his no tax pledge. Lest one think this is an empty threat, perhaps they should talk to Senator Bennett of Utah or Senator Lugar of Indiana. Norquist himself may not have the clout he once had. But his no tax platform still resonates with much of the GOP base.

Meanwhile, unions are threatening to withdraw support from Democrats who vote for entitlement reform. With this kind of pressure, one wonders how anything at all can get done.