The elderly: As recently as yesterday morning, it was taken for granted that one of the major provisions of an alternative to the fiscal cliff would be cuts in the federal retirement security programs that are the main long-term drivers of deficits. But ultimately Democrats cared more about avoiding spending cuts than securing tax revenues, and Republicans cared more about low taxes than cutting spending. Old people are the winners.
"Grand Bargaineers": David Weigel has written elegantly for Slate about Pete Peterson's decades-long failure to move the needle on deficit reduction, and this week Peterson has failed yet again. The "fiscal cliff" was his best chance yet to secure a grand bargain of big tax hikes and major spending cuts by creating an artificial political crisis that supposedly could only be defused with a huge deficit reduction package. But the win for the elderly was a catastrophic defeat for the grand bargain.
Fighting Democrats: The Obama administration has gotten a lot done since Inauguration Day 2009, but what it's never done is give strong partisan Democrats the kind of to-the-mattresses battle against the GOP that they crave. Most liberals think — and I agree — that had we simply gone over the cliff and had Obama simply insisted on a new tax cut bill with a $250,000 threshold, he ultimately would have won. But success was by no means guaranteed, and ultimately the White House chose not to risk further re-enforcing a sense that the president is a weak poker player.
Grover Norquist: The leader of Americans for Tax Reform is hardly the key to anti-tax thinking on the right. But his particular gimmick, a "pledge" to never cast an affirmative vote for higher taxes, had become influential on its own terms. The White House and other pro-deal Democrats see breaking this taboo as an important precedent-setter in its own right.