Posted by AzBlueMeanie:
I have said before that I believe President Obama is terrible at negotiation. For a Harvard educated attorney, he frequently violates the first rule of negotiation: never negotiate against yourself. His opening bid is frequently where the other side would like to end up at the end, which only encourages the GOP to get greedy and to move the goal line where they want to end up at the end even farther to the right.
But there is a counter-intuitive argument that some have adopted to explain President Obama's negotiation style. They argue that he is Mr. Spock playing 11-dimensional chess, demonstrating that there is literally nothing he could offer Republicans -- even things they themselves have said they want -- to induce them to compromise. Even if this were true, I am left to ask "to what end?"
This tactic will not get the president the "grand bargain" he claims to desire. All the while it undermines the legitimacy of Democratic Party principles by playing this game on a field determined by the GOP -- Mr. President, please stop using the GOP message framing and giving legitimacy to their arguments, which have no legitimacy in the real world of economics. Faith based supply-side "tricke down" GOP austerity economics is an unmitigated disaster, and has been entirely disproved and discredited. Allowing this to continue is no "bargain," it is insanity.
Yet that is where we find ourselves today. Greg Sargent writes, Why Obama wants a Grand Bargain:
The news of the morning is that President Obama will propose a budget next week that includes specific cuts in Social Security and Medicare along with new revenues — an effort to bring Republicans back to the table for a “Grand Bargain” to replace the sequester.
The entitlement cuts include Chained CPI for Social Security and a combination of means testing and provider-side cuts on Medicare, in addition to other spending cuts, which will anger liberal Democrats. Chained CPI is a fancy way of describing what is a real benefits cut. The budget seeks $580 billion in new revenues via closing loopholes enjoyed by the wealthy and oil and gas companies. There will reportedly be some new spending offset by money raised elsewhere — which is designed to prove that you can reduce the deficit and spend to prime the economy and help the middle class at the same time.
At a certain level, this shouldn’t surprise anybody. On entitlements, Obama is merely reiterating what he’s previously offered John Boehner, and it has long been clear that this offer is still on the table. Many liberals have long suspected that Obama actively wants to cut entitlements. So here is my understanding of White House thinking on why a Grand Bargain is a good outcome.
Obama and his advisers don’t necessarily view Chained CPI as good policy. But they think a Grand Bargain is ultimately a better outcome than continued sequestration, and the only way to the former is to peel off individual Republicans who are open to new revenues. They believe a Grand Bargain is good for Democrats in general, because it essentially would lock in a medium-term agreement over core disputes — about the safety net and about the size of government, and who should pay for it — that have produced a debilitating stalemate in Washington.
Yes, Republicans would continue railing about government spending, the thinking goes, but no one would listen, since they would have already endorsed a deal stabilizing the deficit. This would deprive Republicans of the ability to focus attention on one of their core targets — Big Government — as a way to avoid grappling with other issues, such as jobs and long-term middle class economic security, immigration, guns, and perhaps even climate change. Reaching a deal on the deficit will force Republicans to confront those problems more directly and to choose between real cooperation on them or continue to calcify as a hidebound, reactionary party incapable of addressing major challenges facing the country.
Liberals will point out that it’s folly to offer Republicans so much up front, because they’ll only denounce the offer as “unserious” and demand more, shifting the debate further in their direction. But officials insist the White House has no intention of budging on its demand for new revenues or allowing Republicans to pull Obama further towards them.
The offer in the budget, the thinking goes, will drive home that Obama is the one who occupies the compromise middle ground, and if Republicans refuse to deal, it will be crystal clear in the public mind who is to blame for continued austerity. The White House doesn’t worry about putting its fingerprints on entitlements cuts, because Obama has long proposed them himself.
I’m not defending this thinking; I’m simply detailing it. In my view, it’s not clear yet that the sequester will shape up as enough of a political liability to force Republicans back to the table.
Sargent continues, Another moment of real clarity in the fiscal debate:
You’ll be startled to hear that John Boehner has declared that Obama’s budget offer of Chained CPI, Medicare cuts that include means testing, and other spending cuts is not good enough:
“If the president believes these modest entitlement savings are needed to help shore up these programs, there’s no reason they should be held hostage for more tax hikes,” Boehner said in a statement. “That’s no way to lead and move the country forward.”
The curious thing about this is that Republicans previously said they wanted these things as proof that Obama is “serious” about cutting spending. In late December, a Boehner aide told Bloomberg News that the Speaker wanted Chained CPI more than other entitlement cuts, such as raising the Medicare eligibility age, as the two were negotiation over a possible cuts-for-revenues swap to avert the fiscal cliff.
And in late November, Mitch McConnell explicitly told the Wall Street Journal that if Obama offered entitlement changes such as Chained CPI and Medicare means testing, Republicans would consider new revenue. He actually said this: “those are the kinds of things that would get Republicans interested in new revenue.”
Apparently none of this remains operative. And so we have a moment of clarity in this debate once again: There is literally nothing that Obama can offer Republicans — not even things they themselves have asked for — that would induce them to agree to a compromise on new revenues.
And of course, whatever you think of Chained CPI — I oppose it and think it is terrible policy — providing this moment of clarity is one of the reasons Obama offered these cuts in his new budget. The idea is to demonstrate once again that one party is willing to compromise to replace the sequester and reduce the deficit, and other isn’t. As a clarifying moment, this rivals what we saw earlier this year, when Republican leaders finally admitted openly that there was no ratio of new spending cuts to new revenues that would be acceptable to them. Today’s GOP response to the Obama budget, should, in theory at least, bring this clarity into even sharper focus.
* * *
But even if a deal isn’t possible, that leaves the White House with little alternative other than to extract as much political pain for the ongoing sequester and from continued GOP intransigence as possible, with an eye towards the 2014 midterms. That’s what today’s exercise is all about.
I am sorry, but we cannot afford another two years of political stasis where nothing gets done. These lunatics in Congress have an obligation to govern responsibly. This insanity cannot continue.
UPDATE: Krugman calls it "desperately seeking approval from the Serious People."