Republican aides are circulating their summary of the White House's opening bid on the fiscal cliff. They're circulating it because they believe it fleshes out Speaker John Boehner's complaint that “the White House has to get serious.” Above all, they're circulating it because the president isn't offering them anything in his opening bid.
Suzy posted the full summary here. It calls for $1.6 trillion in taxes and only $400 billion in new entitlement spending cuts (though note that it assumes the roughly trillion dollars in discretionary spending cuts passed in the Budget Control Act and the trillion dollars in savings from ending the wars, such that the total spending cuts, at least in the White House's view, are nearer to $2.4 trillion). It also includes about $200 billion in stimulus, including the extension or replacement of the payroll tax cut, and a proposal to encourage homeowners to refinance. Oh, and it lifts the debt ceiling.
"How did it take them three weeks (and two days) to offer nothing but President Obama’s budget?" A GOP leadership aide asked me rhetorically.
We're seeing two things here. One is that the negotiations aren't going well. When one side begins leaking the other side's proposals, that's typically a bad sign. The other is that Republicans are frustrated at the new Obama they're facing: The Obama who refuses to negotiate with himself.
That's what you're really seeing in this "proposal." Previously, Obama's pattern had been to offer plans that roughly tracked where he thought the compromise should end up. The White House's belief was that by being solicitous in their policy proposals, they would win goodwill on the other side, and even if they didn't, the media would side with them, realizing they'd sought compromise and been rebuffed. They don't believe that anymore.
Perhaps the key lesson the White House took from the last couple of years is this: Don't negotiate with yourself. If Republicans want to cut Medicare, let them propose the cuts. If they want to raise revenue through tax reform, let them identify the deductions. If they want deeper cuts in discretionary spending, let them settle on a number. And, above all, if they don't like the White House's preferred policies, let them propose their own. That way, if the White House eventually does give in and agree to some of their demands, Republicans will feel like they got one over on the president. A compromise isn't measured by what you offer, it's measured by what the other side feels they made you concede.
The GOP is right: This isn't a serious proposal. But it's not evidence that Obama isn't serious. He's very serious about not negotiating with himself, and his opening bid proves it. Now that they've leaked his initial offer, the next question is obvious: What's their offer?