He decisively won re-election and Republicans seem fearful of being tagged with the blame if an impasse results in the government going over the fiscal cliff. Obama and Democrats already are portraying Republicans as hostage-takers willing let tax rates rise on everyone if the lower Bush-era tax rates are not also extended for the top 2 percent to 3 percent of earners — those with incomes above $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for joint filers.
The new balance of power means that Democrats who once would have acquiesced reluctantly to GOP demands for stiff benefit cuts are now balking at ideas such as chained CPI or an increase in the Medicare retirement age, as well as demanding GOP concessions to higher taxes.
"The price for that kind of thing has gone up," said a senior House Democrat who required anonymity to speak frankly on party strategy. "Negotiations depend on the situation. No one should expect to get the same kind of deal."
Republicans have gotten the message, but insist that higher tax revenues be paired with cuts to rapidly growing programs such as Medicare and the Medicaid health care program for the poor and disabled. These programs are called "entitlements" because eligibility is based on meeting criteria such as age or income.
"Washington's problem isn't that it taxes too little, but that it spends too much," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "But in a good-faith effort to make progress on boosting the economy and government's long-term solvency, Republicans like me have said for more than a year now that we're open to new revenue in exchange for meaningful reforms to the entitlement programs that are the primary drivers of our debt."
New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte said in the GOP's weekly radio address Saturday that "any effort to address our fiscal crisis without including entitlement reform can't be taken seriously."
No way, say many liberals.
"We're going to send a loud message to the leadership in the House, in the Senate, and President Obama: 'Do not cut Social Security, do not cut Medicare, do not cut Medicaid,'" said Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-declared socialist who aligns with Democrats. "Every now and then elections have consequences. We won."
Republicans and even some Obama allies worry that liberal demands will make it harder for the president to seal a bargain with the GOP.
Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., said Obama has the same problem with his party's liberal base that Boehner has with some conservative Republicans. "Boehner has a disproportionate group of his folks skewing things too far out," Quigley said, "and the president has equally the same sort of problems with people who are horribly unreasonable."