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How Obama won and lost in 'fiscal cliff' deal

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All told, the fiscal-cliff deal produces $620 billion in deficit reduction over 10 years, a down payment on what both sides agree needs to be much more. In the cold light of day, many Republicans disappointed by the tax increase agree that the alternative – no deal – would have been worse.

“The deal to avoid going over the so-called fiscal cliff was a lousy one: tax rate increases during a weak economy, no spending reductions, nothing on entitlement reform,” writes Peter Wehner, a former Bush White House official, on Commentary Magazine online. “And yet if House Republicans had succeeded in derailing this deal, negotiated between Senator Mitch McConnell and Vice President Joe Biden, it would have been disastrous.”

But Obama’s victory is narrow. And by getting only a partial deal now, he faces a bigger fiscal cliff just a few weeks into his second term. In fact, there will be three cliffs: the deep spending cuts known as the “sequester” that come due (again) in two months; the debt ceiling, which will prohibit new federal borrowing without congressional action, also in about two months; and the expiration on March 27 of the continuing budget resolution – the short-term deal passed Oct. 27 that allows the federal government to keep spending money.

Those three anvils hanging over Washington’s head are likely to consume attention as the deadlines approach, creating a distraction from other matters Obama might want to address after his second inauguration on Jan. 21 – starting with gun violence and immigration reform.

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