John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Half-Empty, Half-Full

Posted on January 25, 2013

I am a “glass half-full” kind of guy.  I try to find the positives in life and not dwell too much on the negatives.

When you work in the leadership of the Congress for 15 years, you get used to selling things from a half-full perspective.  The legislative process does not usually lend itself to getting a full glass of anything, especially in divided government.

In Washington, there is a whole industry that has arisen that thrives on looking at life from the half-empty perspective.  There was a story in the Washington Post about Heritage Action, the political arm of the Heritage Foundation.  The purpose of the Heritage Action crowd is to find those nuggets in every legislative compromise and skewer Republicans over it.

They get most of their energy from attacking Republican leaders and making it as difficult as possible for Republicans to reach an honorable compromise on anything.

The Wall Street Journal Editorial page usually sees the glass half-empty too.  Sometimes they understand that you have to make the government run, but usually they are in the camp of beating up Republicans for their lack of purity.

A perfect example came up with fiscal cliff compromise reached by Mitch McConnell and Joe Biden.   It was a compromise, so it was by no means perfect.

I chose to look at the positives.  It kept in place 98% of the Bush tax cuts, and not only kept them in place but made them permanent.  It made a permanent fix to the estate tax provisions, taking uncertainty out of the market place.  It adjusted the baseline so that more revenue would off the table, requiring that the government cut more spending in the future.  All of these were very positive developments, especially because without that compromise, taxes would have gone up on everybody, targeting people who live in Red States the hardest.

Now, make no mistake, it wasn’t perfect.  Taxes went up on everybody.  For example, the payroll tax cut expired.  Some conservatives complained about that expiration, but went Obama initially proposed it, those same conservatives condemned it, saying it was a waste of money that undermined the Social Security Trust Fund (both assertions were true, by the way).

And yes, taxes went up on those making a lot of money.  But that was no surprise.  It was baked into the cake as soon as Obama won the White House.  But because McConnell negotiated so effectively, the threshold for higher taxes was slightly less than double what the Obama Administration wanted.

There was another reason conservatives hated this deal.  It didn’t include any spending cuts.  But spending cuts were never supposed to be part of this deal, chiefly because conservatives in the House refused to support a Boehner package that included both spending cuts and tax relief.

The fight over whether this was a good deal or not will chiefly be fought by people who professionally see everything either glass half-empty or glass half-full.

Glass half-empty folks will likely continue to see everything through this prism when it comes to the debt-limit negotiations, the continuing resolution and the sequester.

I think if we allow the sequester to go forward, and return to 2009 spending levels, that will be a huge victory for our side.  But Republican naysayers will say that either we didn’t cut enough spending or that we didn’t protect defense spending enough.

And the naysayers will probably be right.

But we have to understand the world we live in.  Barack Obama is the President and Harry Reid is the Senate Majority Leader.  In this environment, if Republicans are able to make 98% of the Bush tax cuts permanent and return to 2009 discretionary spending levels, they should pat themselves on the back and say good job.

The right-wing might not see that as the glass half-full, but I sure would.