It’s probably true, as Greg wrote this morning, that Barack Obama’s willingness to promote a jobs bill and now a deficit reduction package that are dead on arrival in the House — but will give the White House popular talking points going forward – is a “new approach” that is much more oriented towards the 2012 elections than towards cutting deals.
But I wanted to add some key context that helps explain why Obama is trying this new approach. What I think is really driving all of this is that Obama doesn’t fear the supercommittee trigger — and he suspects that the GOP might.
This is a real contrast with the spring showdown over appropriations and the threat of a government shutdown, and with the confrontation over the debt limit last month. In those cases, it’s likely that Obama simply was not prepared to accept a failure to reach a deal, because the consequences for the economy would be so dire. With the economy so fragile, Democrats had to be worried that any new shock could lead to a downward spiral. And a new recession would almost certainly cost the Democrats at the ballot box, no matter who was responsible. That gave Republicans some serious leverage in negotiations, since they had an electoral incentive to just blow everything up.
This time, the consequences of failure are very different — and what we can see in the strategy on the jobs bill and the deficit reduction plan is a very different calculation. The White House is clearly willing to accept the possiblity that the Joint Select Committee won’t be able to strike a deal, thus setting off the trigger. Perhaps White House advisers believe the trigger isn’t really all that bad a package. Or perhaps they believe that Republicans will blink first on this one, because the defense cuts and some of the other measures in the trigger might hit a bit too close to important GOP constituency groups. Or perhaps the White House calculation is that it doesn’t really matter if the trigger is enacted, since if Obama is reelected there’s plenty of time to cancel the actual cuts before they take effect.
The bottom line is that there’s no Republican “crazy person” strategy to gain leverage for the GOP this time around. Without the entire economy to hold hostage, no one cares very much if Republicans are willing to walk away from a reasonable compromise. My guess is that if Republicans do decide to deal, Obama will be just as ready as ever to bargain — but this time, he’ll be doing it from a much stronger position. And if it turns out to be true that Republicans are more afraid of the trigger than the Democrats are, then that suggests that the Democrats may have done far better in the summer debt ceiling negotiations — they won that trigger, after all — than many liberals have been willing to acknowledge.