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Opinion: Democrats Should Use Fiscal Cliff for Real Tax Change

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The campaign can have an intoxicating effect on political junkies. We thrive on it. We consume it endlessly. We refresh, surf blogs, play Comedy Central's greatest clips and build up toward the ultimate high of Election Night.

In the aftermath of the Democratic shellacking, the victories by exciting progressive voices, the sweep of marriage equality referenda and the vindication of Nate Silver, it would be easy to spend a few weeks in a giddy hungover afterglow. Additionally, there's the schadenfreude of witnessing the Republican circling fire squad. Karl Rove bilked billionaires to no avail. Tea Party faithful are eviscerating Chris Christie. The Romney campaign was a bunch of yes-men who were either lying to themselves or just to their boss. It's like Christmas has come early.

But as much as we might want to keep this buzz going, there's the more sober act of governing that deserves as much attention as we gave to debate gaffes and poll numbers. It's not as fun. It's not It's not just cheering for one team or another. Yet it's a whole lot more important.

Governing doesn't wait until January's inauguration. It begins now - with the Washington showdown over the deficit scheduled for next month. If progressives don't pay attention to this unenviable fight, then any gains from the election could be washed away before the new class of Senators even comes to town.

Deep spending cuts will hit our national budget as part of a kick-the-can deal Congress made when December seemed eons away. It's a series of cuts that nobody is excited about - but the solutions that are "obvious" to the pundit class of Beltway insiders may be just as bad. That slate of DC wise men - the same who didn't challenge Romney on his budget numbers, but defied Nate Silver on his polling numbers - want a "Grand Bargain" to supplant this "fiscal cliff."

What it really means is they want to shock the nation with a ginned-up artificial and politically created threat and push us to sacrifice some of the nation's strongest institutions, including Social Security.

Talking about a fiscal cliff is scary, which is how it's intended. But cutting essential services should be scarier than borrowing money at record low interest rates. Taking austerity measures that would stymie a slowly recovering economy is the truly frightening precipice.

And the "grand bargain" - another compelling phrase - isn't grand at all. We all remember that the GOP candidates for President all rejected the notion of $1 of new revenue for every $10 of cuts. Even if they've been humbled by electoral defeat, it means they maybe will now except the 10-to-1 ratio - which truly is a bargain for the nation's wealthiest citizens, biggest corporations and slyest tax dodgers.

President Obama and the Democratic caucus should be emboldened. The president has had one of the most successful reelection campaigns in modern history. The Democrats took a losing situation and turned it into Senate gains. They are in the driver's seat.

So an end of the Bush tax give-away to the 1 percent is an obvious step, one that the public clearly voted for on Tuesday. But the Democrats can go further. Tax dividend like income, for example. Pressure corporations to show their income domestically. Stop Americans for benefitting from offshoring money. And all those loopholes Romney and Ryan were bullish on closing - let's take that Republican idea and run with it.

In the last lame-duck session of Congress, the Democrats pushed a break on unemployment taxes, an end to Don't Ask Don't Tell and resolution on health benefits for 9/11 responders. It wasn't lame after all.

After a historic election, with a strong mandate, let's expect Democrats to make even more of this session. Let's continue our political addiction - not just for polling, but for whip counts; not just for campaign coverage but policy debates. And if the Democrats show some guts, maybe we'll get our political buzz back and stay hooked in the critical months and years ahead.