Friday, December 21, 2012

Playing Chicken at the Fiscal Cliff

To House Republicans it must have felt like the Mayan Apocalypse.

Speaker Boehner could not find the votes for his ill-labeled Plan B, so he folded his cards and went home to celebrate Christmas. 

Even if it had passed the House, Plan B was destined to die in the Senate, so the Republican leadership was trying to give itself political cover. It was also a test for John Boehner: could he hold his caucus together? He could not.

Most people believe that the warring parties will reach a deal to avert the fiscal cliff. For now it appears that President Obama has the stronger hand: polls are saying that Republicans will be blamed for failure.

But, you can win a battle and lose a war. Obama is playing for political advantage. He is negotiating in bad faith and trying to humiliate Republicans. He might well win this battle but he is compromising, perhaps fatally, his ability to lead on subsequent issues.

The Wall Street Journal summed it up best in an editorial:

The White House may chortle that the GOP is in disarray, and it is, but this failure to govern also owes much to President Obama's failure to negotiate with any degree of seriousness. If Washington now goes off the tax cliff, Mr. Obama may not enjoy the plunge as much as some of his partisans believe.

What does it mean to negotiate in bad faith?

When you price a rug at $500 and a potential purchaser offers $400, a bad faith negotiator comes back with a counteroffer of $750.

The Journal described the Obama version:

Speaker John Boehner defaulted to Plan B as a last resort after weeks of failed negotiations with the White House. First he offered to raise revenue by $800 billion through tax reform, but Mr. Obama insisted on raising tax rates. When Mr. Boehner finally cracked on raising rates, at an income threshold of $1 million, Mr. Obama still said no.

The President also wanted more spending immediately, not less, and he offered no specific entitlement reform beyond a change in how inflation is measured in adjusting tax brackets and federal transfer payments. Oh, and he wanted the national debt limit lifted permanently.

To put this in raw political terms, Mr. Boehner offered to break a core GOP principle on taxes and Mr. Obama offered him nothing he could take back to his rank-and-file in return. Mr. Boehner is a political leader, not a dictator, and he needs to persuade Members, not beat them into submission.

As mentioned here Obama seems more interested in humiliating Republicans and beating them into submission than in negotiating a deal.

[For extra credit, the name of which world religion translates into English as “submission?”]

Boehner’s error, the Journal editorialized, was to imagine that he would be dealing with a new Obama who would magically have acquired the negotiation skills he so conspicuously lacked in his first term.

In its words:

The Speaker's miscalculation was that, just as in 2011, he thought he could get into a room with the President and negotiate a grand bargain. His intentions were good but he misjudged the all-or-nothing ideological nature of this Presidency. After the debacle of 2011, Mr. Obama could have treated the negotiations as the art of the bipartisan deal that could set the stage for immigration reform and other second-term achievements. Flush with victory, he could have at least made a gesture on entitlements.

Instead, he has treated the talks as an extension of the election campaign, traveling around the country at rally-style events at which he berates Republicans for not accepting his terms of surrender. Grant gave Lee more at Appomattox.

A lot of Republicans seem to be saying that they made a good faith effort to negotiate, but that, facing the choice between saving their dignity and caving in to Obama, they prefer the former, come what may.


Sam L. said...

OOh! Ooh! Mr. Kott-air! I can name that religion which shall not be named.

I'm not sure that Boehner's mistake was assuming The Won would negotiate fairly, there having been no evidence of that he has ever seen; I think it was that he did not or could not sell his Plan B to the tea party representatives.

katzxy said...

A clear-eyed assessment of reality is necessary for good leadership. Perhaps Boehner needs to take some time to carefully reflect.

Nick said...

Islam! Submit or be beheaded!