If Obama Wins, Clinton Will Stay At His Side: Countdown Day 12

2012 COUNTDOWN: If Obama Wins, Clinton Will Stay At His Side
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President Barack Obama reacts as he is introduced by former President Bill Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative, Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012, in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
President Barack Obama reacts as he is introduced by former President Bill Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative, Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012, in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

WASHINGTON -- Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton are turning into the most watchable buddy-buddy road show since "Starsky and Hutch." All they're missing are platform shoes and a Gran Torino.

Next week they will travel together to Florida, Ohio and Virginia, as Clinton tries to infuse his explanatory magic into Obama's campaign-trail pitch in the final days of a grueling 2012 race.

But as attention turns -- even before Election Day -- to the dreaded "fiscal cliff" looming at year's end, it's becoming clear that Clinton's sidekick duties will not be over on November 6 if Obama wins.

If the current president gets the chance to try to fashion a post-election deal, he'll need Clinton's help in selling it to fellow Democrats.

White House staffers are already working overtime on the details of various potential deals; corporate America is begging for -- demanding -- prompt action to avoid massive tax increases and draconian "sequestered" spending cuts on January 2.

Administration officials argue that they will be in a better position to make a deal with the post-election Congress than a Romney proto-presidency would be.

Obama long ago signaled willingness to take on his own party by countenancing entitlement cuts. Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), are irrevocably committed to not raising income tax rates on anyone, and not raising the overall tax burden.

Since the essence of any deal would be concession on both sides of the ledger, Romney's first act as president-elect would require picking a tax fight with the Tea Party and perhaps Ryan.

Meanwhile, Obama's staff and advisers inside and outside the White House -- many of them former staffers for Bill Clinton -- are looking at options. If their boss wins, talks will begin immediately.

"I don't see Clinton sitting in on the negotiations," said a source who is very close to both men. "Budget talks are incredibly detailed and exhausting. You have to be totally immersed, and the president has to take the lead. I don't see Clinton in that process.

"But if we get a tentative agreement, I expect that the former president will be asked to help sell it, and I am sure that he will," said the source, who asked for anonymity to frankly discuss both men. "Nobody could do it better."

Clinton has done it before. In December 2010, Obama was forced to accept an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts in exchange for a deal to extend unemployment insurance, an extension of the payroll tax cut and other items on the Democrats' agenda.

As it happened, a meeting with Clinton was already on the president's schedule that day. After the two met privately in the Oval Office, Clinton suggested off-the-cuff that they both go to the briefing room, where Clinton gave a ringing defense of the deal.

A planned and elaborate version of the same thing could happen this December, if the president is reelected and can fashion a tentative agreement.

Obama would need the help. He is not on good terms with members of Congress in general -- even, if not especially, with members of his own party, some of whom regard him as aloof to the point of condescension. There are some key Democrats in the House with whom he has never had a serious and extended conversation.

The president has already indicated -- and indicated again recently in his interview with the Des Moines Register editorial board -- that he is open to a deal that would include substantial new cuts to entitlement programs, an idea that is anathema to much of his party.

Selling that part of the deal to constituencies such as labor, the Congressional Black Caucus and teachers groups, to name a few, would be Clinton's brief.

As for family self-interest, there would be plenty. Most economists and business experts think that a real, substantive budget deal -- one that, for example, would save the $4 trillion suggested by the Simpson-Bowles Plan -- would boost both the psychology and reality of the American, and thus the global, economy.

Four good years of Democratic-led U.S. economic growth would set things up nicely for current Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2016.

There's never been a TV show like it, but "The Good Husband" might sell.

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