Thursday, December 22, 2011

A hit! A palpable hit!

Say what you will about economic fundamentals governing elections, and the ephemera of spin.  Ever since Obama acceded to an all-spending-cuts "deficit reduction bill" on Aug. 1, he has needed above all else to win a fight with the GOP.  He just got what he needed:
House Republicans on Thursday crumpled under the weight of White House and public pressure and have agreed to pass a two-month extension of the 2 percent payroll-tax cut, Republican and Democratic sources told National Journal.
Obama staged this fight and has stuck to his guns for two months.  He has orchestrated and escalated the pressure in a very public manner. He's brought home a bit of bacon for almost everyone. The perception of weakness and ineffectuality should be in large part erased.  His improved persona is working in concert with modestly improved economic data to lift his poll numbers.

Credit the man with learning from experience.

UPDATE 12/23: Just to reinforce the basic narrative line, note the verbs (and verbal nouns)  in the lede to the WaPo coverage of the GOP cave:

Facing withering criticism from across the political spectrum and abandoned by Senate allies, House Republicans bowed to political reality Thursday and agreed to a two-month extension of a payroll tax cut for 160 million Americans.

The agreement represented a remarkable capitulation on the part of House Republicans, who had two days earlier rejected such a deal with Democrats as the kind of half-measure that their new majority was elected to thwart.
Remember the banner headline on Paul Krugman's reaction to the deficit reduction deal struck on Aug. 1? CAPITULATION.  That was prelude to Drew Westen's disaster narrative and a fall in stature for Obama among his supporters. It's that narrative that he's reversed in stages since Labor Day, beginning with his deficit reduction plan and jobs package, extending through his countenancing of the sequestered cuts triggered by the supercommittee failure, and climaxing with his full-court press for extended unemployment benefits and payroll tax cut. Of course, Democrats compromised perhaps two months to get the measly two-month extension, and a fresh fight looms over the year-long extension. But thanks to House GOP overreach, Obama has his win.  Cave, capitulate, collapse..that's the story being told about the GOP.

UPDATE 2: The Times' Jackie Calmes tells much the same tale:
President Obama did not win much substantively with his victory Thursday over House Republicans in their showdown over extending payroll tax cuts and unemployment aid for two months. But he got a lot politically: a big start toward retiring the perception — fair or not, and even among Democrats — that in a pinch with the other party he will inevitably surrender.

That perception had dogged Mr. Obama for much of the year since gains by Republicans in the 2010 midterm elections gave them control of the House and a share of power in Washington. But it became threatening, both to Mr. Obama’s leverage with Congress and to his prospects for re-election, after the epic summer fight over raising the nation’s debt limit.
 And quotes an old hand who gets at the crux:
Vin Weber, a Republican Party strategist and former congressman, acknowledged that Mr. Obama had won at least “a nice tactical victory to end the year” as well as higher approval ratings in recent polls. Mr. Weber said he learned long ago from a pollster to President Ronald Reagan that “one of the central ingredients of a president’s approval rating is the public’s sense of his ability to dominate Congress.”

“The substantive issues,” he said, “are secondary.”
A president generally can't dominate Congress. That's why he's got to pick his battles carefully. As Obama did in this case.

1 comment:

  1. The best way to understand this win for Obama is to look at leverage that each side has gained and lost. The Republicans had great leverage in July, but they lost it ALL in the debt ceiling deal. The Democrats already had some leverage with this (Dem-supported) payroll tax cut ending, and the debt deal gave them additional leverage on spending cuts. Debt ceiling deal here, payroll tax cut here.