Saturday, April 06, 2013

In which Obama publicly negotiates with himself

It's become a cliche that Obama is a poor negotiator because he "negotiates with himself." In his weekly address, he makes it literal. Here's what he says about the budget he's releasing on Wednesday:
This is the compromise I offered the Speaker of the House at the end of last year.  While it’s not my ideal plan to further reduce the deficit, it’s a compromise I’m willing to accept in order to move beyond a cycle of short-term, crisis-driven decision-making, and focus on growing our economy and our middle class for the long run.  It includes ideas many Republicans have said they could accept as well.  It’s a way we can make progress together.
Of course he's willing to accept this compromise, because he proposed it. The Republicans, however, didn't accept it. Putting it on offer now signals that he's willing to accept a new compromise further to the right.

If the sequestration cuts generate enough political pain for Republicans, they just might scrape up about $200 billion in revenue via tax loophole closures or reductions over ten years, which, paired with the not-quite $100 billion yielded by chained-CPI, would be the price of all the spending cuts Obama's proposed to replace sequestration.  That's the best Democrats are going to get.

To be fair, you're in a tough spot when you're governing in a system that presumes negotiation with the opposition, and the opposition won't negotiate.  It leaves making statements like Nancy Pelosi's absurd-but-true postmortem on ACA passage: "“The bill can be bipartisan, even though the votes might not be bipartisan, because they [Republicans] have made their imprint on this.”Obama, similarly, can offer a budget reflecting a "balanced approach" that meets Republicans halfway, or more than halfway, when they are not there to be met.

Obama's current offer, were it accepted, would not be a terrible outcome to the two years of budget trench warfare. The problem, in my view, is that he lost his best chance to put it across in January, when the Bush tax cuts expired.

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