Saturday, December 22, 2012

Behind the scenes on the negotiations

The Wall Street Journal says that they interviewed "dozens of aides and lawmakers" to craft a summary of how the negotiations over the so-called "fiscal cliff" between President Obama and Speaker Boehner broke down. The few snippets they provide are indeed fascinating. For example:
Mr. Obama repeatedly lost patience with the speaker as negotiations faltered. In an Oval Office meeting last week, he told Mr. Boehner that if the sides didn't reach agreement, he would use his inaugural address and his State of the Union speech to tell the country the Republicans were at fault.

At one point, according to notes taken by a participant, Mr. Boehner told the president, "I put $800 billion [in tax revenue] on the table. What do I get for that?"

"You get nothing," the president said. "I get that for free."
Does that sound like a President who is negotiating with himself? Anything but!

Its interesting to note how the President responded when Boehner started begging for the "grand bargain" he rejected during the debt ceiling negotiations.
On Dec. 13, Mr. Boehner went to the White House at the president's request, joking he was going to the woodshed.

The president told him he could choose one of two doors. The first represented a big deal. If Mr. Boehner chose it, the president said, the country and financial markets would cheer. Door No. 2 represented a spike in interest rates and a global recession.

Mr. Boehner said he wanted a deal along the lines of what the two men had negotiated in the summer of 2011 in a fight over raising the debt ceiling. "You missed your opportunity on that," the president told him.

That night, the speaker and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) decided to make the biggest concession so far.
As I've noted previously, those concessions included extending the tax cuts for income under $1 million and extending the debt limit for one to two years. Here's how they describe the discussions after that:
In that session, the president held firm for $1.2 trillion in additional tax revenue, a second step down from his original offer. Mr. Boehner asked for another $100 billion in spending cuts but couldn't get a commitment.

Finally, the speaker said, "Well, you and I can sit here and stare at each other," or he could leave and they would talk later.

Back in the Capitol, Mr. Boehner told Mr. Cantor the president wasn't moving. They agreed to call him. On the call, Mr. Boehner restated he needed $1 in spending cuts for every $1 in revenue raised. He dropped a prior demand to increase the Medicare eligibility age.

The president told Mr. Boehner that he was willing to make some concessions on taxes and spending, but cautioned that they needed to retain Democratic votes for the bill to pass.

The speaker raised the prospect of moving a backup bill. White House officials said Mr. Boehner didn't reveal what Plan B comprised. Administration officials expected a few more days of back-and-forth, but the speaker thought the prospects were dim for a big deal.
We all know the story about the Republican fiasco that resulted.

I see nowhere that President Obama put chained CPI on the table - the subject that has gotten the most attention lately. Perhaps it is inferred in the suggestion that the President "was willing to make some concessions on taxes and spending." But that was qualified by the reality that he "needed to retain Democratic votes for the bill to pass." So it certainly doesn't sound like a sure thing. And if it was ever "on the table," it was in response to Republican concessions on:
  1. Raising taxes on the wealthy
  2. Extending the debt limit
  3. Dropping the demand to increase the Medicare eligibility age
  4. Extending unemployment benefits
  5. Additional stimulus spending
Its clear now that Boehner couldn't deliver on those concessions. But then, whatever the President put on the table in response is also mute moot - just like the 2011 grand bargain. 

That's a fascinating look at our Negotiator-in-Chief. And it defies all the stereotypes that have developed amongst the poutragers about him being willing to negotiate with himself. 


  1. I will ask folks to read the above before commenting to me on twitter, cuz I have had about enough of these idiotic mischaracterizations about PBO's negotiating skills


  2. smartypants/ebogan63:

    Since I there is hardly other people commenting on this Saturdays Article of your thinking in reference to the PBO negotiating skills. I am continually fascinated about your abilities to; reason, think, perceive, analyze PBO responses to the opposing positions of the political spectrum. When in questionable high stakes political negotiating situation(s). Trust, believe, and relax that PBO will think and decide in the best interest of our nation. In complete contrast to the Republicans Political Policies that have placed our nation in regression as they historical have due to their primary political interest and policies that are plutocratic. Never in the best interest of America?!?
    Happy Holidays and continue to help guide our nation to think positive that things will work out as best as what PBO can accomplish for our nation!

  3. Thanks.

    Also, typo to correct in second-to-last graph moot not mute.

    1. Thanks Tien Le. I knew "mute" wasn't right while I was writing, but couldn't come up with the right spelling. And of course, in cases like that - spell check is useless.

    2. I'd like to say that recall of proper words gets better as you get older, but I'd be lying. Sometimes I stare at the screen for long minutes trying to recall a word I used just the day before.

  4. If the chained CPI were to happen simultaneously with the introduction of minimum benefit guarantees and supplemental payments to the folks in the middle and/or bottom income levels, wouldn't such a thing actually be a strengthening of SS on the backs of the affluent? Sort of a back door means test? It could result in a very public strengthening of SS making everyone aware that the program had long term solvency and therefore removing scare tactics over SS from the list of the GOP's favorite talking points while also strengthening our safety net? Maybe I don't understand, but I sort of see such a thing as a move in the right direction in reversing the redistribution of our nation's wealth to the top that has been happening ever since trickle down snake oil was foisted on us 30 or so years ago.

    1. The last couple of days I've spent some time hanging out with folks who have their hair on fire about chained CPI. Part of my interest was to see if they were acknowledging that IF it had been included in the deal, the WH was insisting on protections for the most vulnerable. From what I saw, that was not something most of them were assuming.

    2. Wasn't the chained CPI just a trial balloon anyway? The Administration floated it, the Dems in Congress weighed in on whether or not they'd accept it and it really doesn't matter even one whit what the hair-on-fire crowd think. They're in love with the sound of their own voices and if it's not this, then it will be something else. Social Security is the Iraq War for them. They must have something to be enraged about. No amount of common sense discussion will change that. And certainly nothing the President actually says matters to them.

    3. I have an aversion to thinking about something as a trial balloon. That's because it has been the excuse used by the PL for attacking PBO over every rumor that came out of DC (usually via Politico).

      But its also a strategy I'm not sure PBO would use - at least not based on how I read him.

      What I don't get yet is whether chained CPI is actually something he was ready to sign on to as part of a deal or whether it was something that was discussed during the last real negotiations he had with Boehner. What's really fascinating to me is that it was at the point where it was discussed that Boehner walked away from the negotiations. I'd LOVE to know more about how/why that went down.

  5. In regard to the WSJ article, I've also read on other sites today that the republican aides went to the WH and asked PBO to offer them the same deal he offered the republicans in 2011, but that he refused. I don't blame him because when he offered them a deal in 2011 which would have eliminated going over the "fiscal cliff," they rebuffed him and ended up adding the automatic cuts to the budget bill they voted to pass. The predicament the republicans now find themselves in is of their own making. What they really, really, really want to do is destroy/harm Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other social safety net programs, but they want the president to take the heat for it. He's refusing to play ball with them, and they're very upset. The republicans need to remember that sometimes when one does things out of spite, there are consequences later that one may not want to deal with. It seems that their recalcitrance in the last four years is coming back to bite them solidly on their butts. Congress's approval rating is at an all-time low, and Boehner's approval rating has tanked.


Can Republicans "moderate" their position on abortion?

One of the most important stories coming out of recent elections is that, whenever voters have a chance to weigh in about abortion, they hav...