Why a grand bargain may not be possible. (Hint: It’s a trust thing.)

July 30, 2013

President Obama's latest grand bargain offer, which he formally announced Tuesday in Tennessee, isn't going anywhere in Congress.

But, the big takeaway from today's announcement isn't that Obama's latest proposal is DOA. It's that the proposal revealed that there is essentially no relationship or trust between President Obama and the Republican leaders of the House and Senate.


Do these guys look happy to you?

House Speaker John Boehner's office said this morning that the first they had heard what President Obama offered up today -- reforming for the corporate tax system and using the savings for stimulus spending -- when the Associated Press reported it. (President Obama called Boehner on Monday night but the Speaker didn't return the call.)

Here's Boehner press secretary Brendan Buck on the communication (or lack thereof):

And then Buck, later in the morning, tweeted:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) offered much the same criticism in a brief speech on the floor today. "The plan, which I just learned about last night, lacks meaningful bipartisan input," McConnell said. (And, yes, McConnell is the master of the subordinate clause swipe.)

A senior White House aide disputed both the lack of communication -- the source said good conversations had been had with Senate and House members as recently as last night -- as well as any broader conclusion about the trust between President Obama and Congressional Republicans.

"I don't [think] it is a lack of trust, the Speaker's office is a little too quick on the tweet button and they got it wrong this time," said the aide. "I don't think it was intentional that Boehner's office didn't return the call, I am sure it was an oversight. It was just foolish to make a big thing of it."

Still, this episode seems to typify a narrative that has governed White House-Congressional relations since at least the debt ceiling debacle two summers ago: Neither President Obama nor GOP leaders trust one another. At all.

In the wake of the grand bargain failure around the debt ceiling negotiations in the summer of 2011, Boehner pledged to never again participate in one-on-one meetings with President Obama. Obama seemed to turn a philosophical/strategic corner in that episode too, taking a far harder-edged approach to his dealings with Congressional Republicans (and the rival party more generally) from that time until today.

Obama and Boehner have since mostly dealt with one another via public nasty-grams. In fact, the only deadline deal on budget and spending issues that has been cut between the White House and Congress involved neither Boehner nor Obama. With the fiscal cliff rapidly approaching at the end of last year, McConnell and Vice President Joe Biden cut a deal.

The reason that deal worked -- and you must read the behind-the-scenes re-telling of the deal the Post produced -- was because McConnell and Biden knew the other could be trusted to deliver on what was promised in their private talks. That's not to say McConnell and Biden were/are buddies. Rather, they are longtime pols who respect and trust each other -- even if they have been adversaries far more often than they have been friends.

There's none of that trust relationship between either McConnell or Boehner and President Obama -- or anything close to it.  (And, McConnell, facing both a primary and general election challenge next year, has little interest in further deal-making with a Democratic White House.) Today's response -- on both sides -- to the grand bargain proposal exposed, or re-exposed, that fact.

The key to compromise on contentious issues between the White House and Congress has always been an ability for the key players to get together behind closed doors and hash out a deal. That requires a modicum of trust that, at least at the moment, doesn't exist.

That reality makes the looming deadline to avoid a government shutdown -- 62 days and counting -- all the more daunting.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Politics
Next Story
Sean Sullivan · July 30, 2013