Predictably, the great fiscal debate of 2012 ended with a whimper, as (yet again) major decisions with regard to spending cuts, entitlement reform, and the debt limit were put off until March - when the next great showdown is scheduled.
Most of the provisions stuffed into the deal were predictable: tax extenders, unemployment benefit extension, a one-year "doc fix", etc…But two major policy calls did play out: the termination of the Bush era tax cuts for individuals with annual incomes of $400,000 and couples at $450,000 (a win for the President) and a permanent alternative minimum tax "patch" (a win for both sides and particularly for middle class taxpayers).
Looming in March is the debt ceiling vote and another continuing resolution to keep the government funded. Again, high political stakes. President Obama has already sought to take the debt ceiling vote off the negotiating table, but the GOP's fiscal hawks see it as one (the only?) way to get him to make spending cuts a priority.
To make matters more intense, an emboldened president has said he would only entertain additional spending cuts if coupled with another tax increase, while a newly elected Speaker Boehner fully understands his House Conference will not stand for any further revenue hikes. Stay tuned - this monumental clash of political philosophies will continue to play out over the next two years.