If you were under the impression President Obama learned something from his mishandling of the debt-ceiling negotiations in 2011, aptly described in Bob Woodward’s “The Price of Politics,”the last day or so should disabuse you of any optimism. Once again Obama can’t be troubled to put a counteroffer on the table. Once again he’s going out to the voters (when has he ever convinced them on a point of policy?). Once again he and the liberal special-interest groups have whipped themselves into a frenzy, certain that they can threaten to take us over the fiscal cliff. (Remember when the media howled, accusing the GOP of wanting the country to default in 2011?) It is a peculiar sort of regard for the middle class that delights in throwing them over the tax cliff, so long as the rich go, too.
Obama may have forgotten that he didn’t benefit in 2011 from the prolonged stalemate, nor did the House Republicans suffer. (As I am sure he noticed, the Republicans retained their majority.) Moreover, and this is the big difference, the Republicans have put revenue on the table, not in a backroom deal, but publicly and in defiance of their hardcore base. The president has done nothing but grandstand. Will voters notice?
He can’t very well bring out the old saw that he wants a balanced deal and Republicans do not. They put revenue on the table; where are his spending cuts?
Moreover, while Republicans might be blamed for an impasse if no deal is reached, Obama’s second-term agenda would in all likelihood come to a screeching halt with a fiscal plummet and resulting recession. His “legacy” would be two terms of economic pain.
Republicans have acted responsibly. They essentially have embraced the rough outline of the Simpson-Bowles deal: more revenue via tax reform, plus entitlement and discretionary spending cuts. That is the bipartisan formula that every commission, committee and “gang of [fill in the number]” has suggested.
As Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) deftly explained yesterday in an interview on CNN, he’s willing to close loopholes and garner more revenue, but the president has to act:
That is as good a summary of where the Republicans are (and where the White House is, well represented by the interviewer) and why a deal is impossible with an inert president who seems simply unable to bargain effectively with the other side.
Now it’s early in the fiscal bargaining game, “only” in the final days of November. Until we close in on Christmas don’t expect real movement by the White House. A savvy Capitol Hill Republican tells me, “Boehner’s guys don’t want to see him capitulate or working with Obama to make a deal – they need to see him fight. Dems in Congress need to see Obama fight, too. So they’ll spar for 10 days while the key staff – Rob Neighbors, Jack Lew, and Tim Geithner — work with the House GOP to put the pieces back together in last summer’s deal.” That is the best-case scenario.
Republicans, however, should proceed with caution. They will never be able to conclude a deal by chasing the president and bargaining against themselves. (A Senate senior adviser cracks, “He can’t agree to anything before his campaign event Friday.”) Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell laid it out on the Senate floor on Tuesday: “Look: we already know the President is a very good campaigner. What we don’t know is whether he has the leadership qualities necessary to lead his party to a bipartisan agreement on a big issue likes this. So let me suggest that if the President wants a solution to the challenges of the moment, the people he needs to be talking to are the members of his own party, so he can convince them of the need to act.” In other words, Boehner and McConnell (as well as influential Republicans like Toomey) have moved their own side into a position to make a deal. Now it’s Obama’s turn, not to spin up his left-wing supporters but to talk turkey to them. That is how deals are made.
Obama has the Republicans’ offer of more revenue. Now they deserve a response. For goodness’ sake, when does Obama stop campaigning and get around to governing?