White House Sees 'Fiscal Cliff' Deal as Game Changer

It's hard to find anyone in Washington happy about the outcome of the "fiscal cliff" brinksmanship.

But inside the Obama White House, senior officials are elated by what they call a significant presidential achievement: breaking longstanding Republican intransigence on taxes.

The deal passed by the Senate early this morning, with the endorsement of all but seven of the 47 Republicans, would raise $620 billion in new revenue, hiking tax rates on households earning more than $450,000 a year.

The income tax hike would be the first in two decades.

"Keep in mind that just last month Republicans in Congress said they would never agree to raise tax rates on the wealthiest Americans," President Obama said Monday. "Obviously, the agreement that's currently being discussed would raise those rates and raise them permanently."

The spin from the White House - casting the new revenue as a major victory - is at least partly aimed at grumbling liberals who have accused Obama of capitulating on a key campaign pledge: hiking tax rates on households making $250,000 or more.

"Anyone looking at these negotiations, especially given Obama's previous behavior, can't help but reach one main conclusion: Whenever the president says that there's an issue on which he absolutely, positively won't give ground, you can count on him, you know, giving way - and soon, too," liberal economist Paul Krugman wrote today in the New York Times.

"The idea that you should only make promises and threats you intend to make good on doesn't seem to be one that this particular president can grasp."

Still, the White House believes the concessions Obama extracted from Republicans on taxes puts him in a stronger position for negotiating on the debt ceiling and "sequester" in the coming weeks.

The president now says any deal to offset the automatic "sequester" spending cuts will have to be balanced - including additional new tax revenue, not cuts alone.

But Republican leaders see the outcome, and the fiscal fights ahead, much differently.

GOPers are touting permanent extension of many of the Bush-era tax cuts as a victory in its own right. They also believe the resolution of the tax revenue debate will allow for greater focus on spending cuts and entitlement overhaul, essentially resetting the national dialogue.

"Frankly, we've denied [Obama], I think, his most important piece of leverage in any negotiation going forward," Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., who sits on the House Budget Committee, said on MSNBC. "So I particularly like that part.

"The sequester is in front of us. The continuing resolution runs out the end of March and, obviously, the debt ceiling. All of those things honestly are Republican leverage, not Democratic," he said.

"So I think there will be opportunities to deal with the spending issue next year."