Why Obama Isn't Caving on the 'Fiscal Cliff'

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President Barack Obama's stiffening resolve during the fight over the fiscal cliff can be traced directly to the lessons he drew from his hard-won triumph of the 2012 campaign.

He whipped Republicans a second time, parried the best attacks they could muster, and is now demanding that they respect the victory, if not the man who won it. That doesn't mean Obama won't eventually compromise, especially with the specter of a renewed recession lingering just over the horizon, but his body language is a lot more combative than the kinder, gentler Obama negotiating style of yore.

His new toughness is rooted in the nature of his convincing November win over Mitt Romney. Obama was carried to the finish line by supporters after his epic flop at the Denver debate. That seeded in him a greater sense of confidence and deepened his resolve not to be rolled by a recalcitrant GOP, as he was during the bitter 2011 fight over the debt ceiling, according to interviews with staffers and friends for "The End of the Line," an eBook published in collaboration between POLITICO and Random House.

After his 2008 win, he talked a lot about bipartisanship. This time he's determined to squeeze it out of Republicans. He believes he owes that to the people who voted for him.

"There's no doubt that he found this one to be sweeter than the last one," said one of Obama's top aides. "It was weighing on him how much was at stake, how much of his entire legacy was on the line. His legacy had not been determined by the previous four years; that wouldn't matter to history. It was all about the outcome on Election Day."

With that outcome now in the history books, the people around the president now see him as a Democratic Reagan, a resilient and popular figure who can unify the country -- if only the dead-enders will give him a chance.

When the book's authors asked David Plouffe, Obama's most influential political adviser, whether the campaign's organizational success could be replicated with other Democrats, he sprang forward in his chair. "The organization doesn't exist without belief in the candidate ... they turned out for Barack Obama," he said. "It was all because of him."

But the buzz from Election Day has proven to be remarkably brief. The White House has been thrust from its post-victory reverie into a Groundhog Day partisan battle that makes any talk of a new "mandate" seem laughable. Romney was a comprehensible threat Obama had gamed out for nearly two years. A fractious, collapsing GOP House majority leaves him in a much more dangerous and uncertain position, at least in the short term.

So far, he's staked out a tough position, refusing to get too specific on spending and entitlement cuts, and threatening GOP leaders -- whose popularity is tanking -- with the bully pulpit of his inauguration and State of the Union speech. But many Hill Democrats, accustomed to seeing Obama give in, remain only cautiously optimistic.

"So far, so good. [But] we'll see how this shakes out," said a top Senate Democrat, who is queasy about the administration's overtures to the GOP on entitlement reform.

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SOURCE: Politico
Glenn Thrush
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