Barack Obama continues to take heat for his negotiating strategy on the debt limit. Felix Salmon and Paul Krugman argue that it was it was a mistake by the administration to try to make a major long-term deficit deal with House Republicans. Others complain that White House should have simply refused to enter into negotiations.
But I think it’s important to step back and remember the basics. The bottom line has always been that Republicans refuse to vote for an increase, and they have the votes to make that stick, at least barring the Constitutional and political uncertainties of invoking the 14th amendment or some other similar White House action. So when people say that Obama shouldn’t negotiate, or shouldn’t try to cut an ambitious deal, the question remains: What would have been his Plan B?
Remember, House Republicans refuse to pass a simple debt limit increase. They don’t want to cut a deal with Democrats in general and Barack Obama in particular. Andrew Sullivan says “it’s performance art, not politics.” How do you negotiate with performance art? Especially when you really need to, because you really need to get the deal done?
While I agree with those who say that it was foolish of Obama and Democrats in the 111th Congress to allow this fight in the first place, I also put relatively little stock in this argument. If the fight wasn’t now over the debt limit, it would have happened in the fall over 2012 spending bills, with more or less the same dynamic.
I have no idea what’s going to happen in the next week. One hopes that enough Republicans are only bluffing with their craziness, or can be talked out of their craziness (by who? Who will they listen to?) at the last minute. Or perhaps eventually, if there’s no other way, the president will take unilateral action — the Constitutional option — after all. But the idea that there was some obvious way for Democrats to deal with this situation strikes me as naïve. This isn’t about poor bargaining or fecklessness by the Democrats. It’s about dealing with the consequences of the fact that Americans elected to Congress a whole bunch of people who are either trying to impose fringe policy views despite apparently having no understanding whatsoever of their consequences — or are so driven by opposition to the president that their highest priority is opposing him, regardless of those consequences.